On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
The District’s June 2 primary stretched into the morning of June 3, with some voters waiting four or five hours to cast their ballot at one of the city’s 20 voting centers.
The D.C. Board of Elections will likely need three weeks to certify the results as absentee and provisional ballots continue to be tallied. But the unofficial primary results are in: Janeese Lewis George appears to have bested incumbent Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd with a lead of about 10%. In Ward 2, Brooke Pinto holds a narrow lead over Patrick Kennedy, while former Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans sits in second-to-last place with just under 300 votes.
DCist Senior Editor Rachel Kurzius joins us to talk about the unprecedented primary.
Produced by Monna Kashfi
- Rachel Kurzius Senior Editor, DCist; @Curious_Kurz
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast, a look at the heightened police presence in the District, and we'll meet the latest winners of the "Do the Write Thing" antigun violence challenge. But first as peaceful protests stretch long past the mayor's seven p.m. curfew last night, D.C. residents turned out at the polls to cast ballots in the D.C. primary. And despite this being an unprecedented mail-in vote with limited in-person voting sites operating because of the coronavirus pandemic, we already have some preliminary results. Joining me now with the latest is Rachel Kurzius, Senior Editor for DCist. Rachel, thank you for joining us.
RACHEL KURZIUSSo glad to be with you, Kojo.
NNAMDIRachel, you had a long night, tracking election results. But we do have some results to report this morning. Let's start with one of the most competitive races, Ward 4. Where does that vote stand?
KURZIUSI want to begin with the caveat that these are unofficial results. There are still some votes waiting to be counted. But certainly from all of the information that we're seeing it looks like Ward 4 challenger Janeese Lewis George has won the race, that she has bested incumbent Brandon Todd. And she herself has declared victory. We've reached out to Councilmember Todd and haven't heard back yet. For a sense of what this race looks like, George has described herself more as a people-first candidate and has long called Todd a special-interest candidate. Certainly, Todd and his supporters would disagree. He's a more business friendly councilmember and says that he has a better understanding of how to balance the needs of residents and businesses. It certainly does appear that Ward 4 residents throughout the ward, in the majority of majority of precincts, were more in line with what George was saying.
KURZIUSAnd it's also notable that she was a candidate using public funding and in the debut for that program in D.C.
NNAMDIBut this election, because of the coronavirus pandemic, is likely to have unprecedented absentee voting. Has that been taken into account by her campaign and by analysts in announcing that she won?
KURZIUSYes. It has. I think that -- look, and that's why I'm wary to say outright Janeese Lewis George has won. We've seen many times that mail-in ballots can come back differently than people expected. We know that sometimes people say they'll vote one way, and then end up voting another. So, I'm not calling it until we get those results, which will be in about a week to 10 days. What the Board of Elections has said, basically, is that they're not going to release them in an iterative fashion. They're not going to release them as they get them. But instead, are just going to give us the next big batch, and that will that.
NNAMDIWell, talk about the political implications. If, in fact, Brandon Todd has been defeated, what would that mean for the political landscape in the city?
KURZIUSBrandon Todd, like I mentioned, is one of the more moderate, one of the more business-friendly councilmembers sitting on the dais right now. And he has the backing of Mayor Muriel Bowser, who lives in his ward and had that seat before him. He was her handpicked successor. And so, people are saying that this is big defeat for the so-called green team, the political machine that backs Bowser and that backed Mayor Adrian Fenty before her, who also rose to the mayorship from the Ward 4 seat. But in addition to Bowser, we also saw endorsements for Todd from multiple sitting councilmembers, including Phil Mendelson, the Chairman of the Council. But that's not to say that George didn't have her own endorsements. One of the most left-wing members of the Council, Elissa Silverman, an independent, actually backed George against Todd, which is somewhat unusual for a sitting councilmember to not back their colleague, an incumbent. And she's not the only one. Karl Racine, the Attorney General, also backed George.
KURZIUSGeorge used to work for Racine in the Attorney General's Office. But really, what this means is if the results hold, that one of the Council's more moderate members has been replaced by someone far more progressive, far more left-wing, has full throatedly talked about, you know, supporting paid family leave. Todd, for example, voted against paid family leave, and also supporting stricter rent control in the city. Just a sampling of the many ways in which they differ.
NNAMDIThere's also news out of the very tight Ward 2 race. What happened there?
KURZIUSThat was a crowded race, Kojo. We're talking about eight candidates in a very unusual race, because there were no incumbent. And yet you might have seen Jack Evans's name on the ballot even though he dropped -- or he vacated his seat, he still decided 10 days later to run for office. But he is certainly not in the lead. This is race where we have no way of saying who won at this point. It's about 100 votes in between Brooke Pinto, another alumna of the D.C. Attorney General's Office, and Patrick Kennedy, a longtime Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Foggy Bottom. And at this point it's way too close to tell. This a great example of where the mail-in ballots can make a difference. I actually just off the phone with Kennedy. He says he's feeling pretty strong, that 100 votes is a deficit that he thinks his campaign can easily overcome. But, really, we'll see in seven to 10 days.
KURZIUSThere's one thing, Kojo, that I feel really confident telling you, which is that Jack Evans's bid for a comeback did not work. Your listeners might remember that, you know, he was dealing with an ethics scandal, an FBI raid, recently was fined by the Ethics Board, and he got fewer than 300 votes in ward that he represented for nearly 30 years. So, it looks like his hope for a new political chapter has been scuttled by the voters of Ward 2.
NNAMDIAnd coming up in just a couple of weeks, on June 16th, Ward 2 residents are going to be voting for someone in a special election to fill that seat that Jack Evans occupies until the final election -- the general election is held in November. But, Rachel, the incumbents in Ward 7 and 8 had a good night. It looks like both Vincent Gray and Trayon White are leading in those races, right?
KURZIUSThat's right. I feel pretty confident in saying that it would be difficult for their challengers to make up that deficit. And it looks like both Vincent Gray and Trayon White will comfortably hold on to their seats for another term. It's also worth noting that, in Wards 7 and 8, those were the only two places where more people voted in person than requested absentee ballots.
NNAMDIAny surprises in the one at-large race that was in the ballot?
KURZIUSNope. Look, this was a -- at-large Councilmember Robert White, the current sitting Democrat with a citywide seat whose up for election, was running uncontested. And it comes as no surprise to any of us that he will make it to the general election, where he's widely expected to win. The thing that will be more interesting in November is there's a second citywide seat up for election. That's the non-majority seat. There's a strange quirk in D.C. law that basically means that someone -- two people from a non-majority party will get a seat on the Council. Right now, they're both filled by independents. Independent David Grosso is not running again. And so that's going to be an even more crowded race than we say in the primary in Ward 2.
NNAMDIRachel, because of the pandemic, the Board of Elections reduced polling stations from the usual 144 to just 20, and strongly encouraged residents to vote by mail. That left people waiting in line to vote at midnight, hours after the polls had closed at eight p.m. What unfolded at the polls yesterday?
KURZIUSIt was an unusual sight for me, Kojo, having followed elections. And I bet you, too, in seeing long, long lines at D.C. voting centers hours after it closed down. I talked to voters who were waiting four, five hours. Some of them were voting in places like Ward 5, which, frankly, had a very dull, uncontested ballot. But they were saying it's really important for them to vote. They love voting and wanted to make sure that they had a chance for their voice to be heard. But, look, the Board of Elections really seemed to have miffed this one, because there was such fewer polling stations, because they were counting on people getting absentee ballots and mailing them in. But the problem was a lot of people didn't end up receiving those absentee ballots in the mail. And so the Board of Elections said, "If you don't get your ballot, that's fine. Just go vote in-person." And a lot of people listened to them. And so, by some accounts, anywhere from about 25 to 33 percent of the people who were waiting online were doing so because they had requested their absentee ballot and never got it.
KURZIUSAnd so, if this is going to be a dry run for November, the Board of Elections is really going to have to change up the way that it works these mail-in ballot systems.
NNAMDIIndeed, I was one of the lucky ones. I did get my absentee ballot, after several tries, and was able to mail it. But Elizabeth writes on Facebook, "I voted by email, after all attempts to get a mail-in ballot failed. It did not feel safe or secure. And this all needs to be fixed before November." Underscoring the point you were just making, Rachel. This better be fixed by November.
KURZIUSThat's right. And Elizabeth makes a great point. So, this was kind of like a last-minute thing from the Board of Elections. We had reporters reaching out to them last Friday, and they were saying, you know, "Either wait for your ballot. We're sending out another batch, or vote in person." And it was only by, I believe Monday or Tuesday, were they had this last minute fix that says, "And actually, also, you can vote by email." I know I spoke with voters who had no idea that was option. And then, notably, I also, you know, our team had spoken to voters who said they didn't even know voting absentee was an option. So, we're going to need a lot more communication from the Board of Elections going into November's race, if indeed they're expecting to have fewer polling centers open as they did in the primary.
NNAMDIAnd when can we expect to have official election results?
KURZIUSWe're hoping between seven to 10 days for the next batch. And, generally, they say by around the 21st, they're expecting to certify them. So, put that stamp where we can stop having that asterisk in chatting about it and stop having all these caveats.
NNAMDIRachel Kurzius, thank you so much for joining us.
KURZIUSYeah. Thanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIRachel Kurzius is a Senior Editor for DCist.
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