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How early voting stands to affect the mayoral election



In today's paper, I took a look at the many, many changes coming to the way the District of Columbia conducts its elections. No-excuse early voting, same-day voter registration, new voting equipment, and several other innovations are all debuting in this year's primary and general elections.

The backdrop for all these changes is a hotly contested mayoral race, and its combatants see both opportunity and reason for concern.

Both Adrian Fenty's and Vincent Gray's campaigns say they plan to take advantage of early voting, in particular.

Sean Madigan, a spokesman for the Fenty campaign, says his camp has been conserving its bank account with an eye toward getting its supporters to the polls during the early-voting period. Gray's backers also are gearing their get-out-the-vote operation to extend over several days, campaign spokeswoman Traci Hughes says.

Where canvassers and phone bankers used to concentrate their efforts on Election Day itself, they now have two additional weeks to get their voters to the polls.

Depending on how elections officials handle things, this could mean that registered Democrats could be getting a whole lot more attention from campaigns than they're accustomed to. In Maryland, for instance, "campaigns will have far more information about who has been to their polling place and who has not during the course of the voting period, opening the door to a prolonged and closely targeted get-out-the-vote effort that could mean days of phone calls to Maryland households," the Baltimore Sun reports.

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics has yet to determine whether it will follow Maryland's lead in providing daily information on who has voted and who hasn't. [See update below.] In any case, Democratic voters can expect a lot of phone calls starting Aug. 30, when the first early D.C. voting center opens.

Another concern is whether all the changes offer opportunities for ballot shenanigans. Gray partisans -- citing the hullabaloo surrounding same-day registrations at the Ward 8 straw poll -- have been particularly vocal about the possibilities for fraud. Early voting could allow the unscrupulous to vote twice or more, they're afraid, and same-day registration could allow anyone to cast a ballot with a bogus address.

But so far, the fears have been unfounded. For one thing, all ballots cast by same-day registrants will be provisional ballots that won't be counted on Election Day. They will be subject to challenge, with the Board of Elections and Ethics empowered to rule on their validity.

As for early voting, the city has purchased a new electronic pollbook system updated in real time to prevent any attempt at casting multiple votes. And it's already been tested.

Last Monday and Tuesday, the Board of Elections and Ethics held a mock election to test the new procedures and equipment. Paul Stenbjorn, the board's chief technology officer, was observing one polling place at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library when a pollworker informed one woman that she'd already voted.

"I didn't think you guys could actually do it," she said, according to Stenbjorn.

Hughes confirms that the woman was a Gray campaign staffer that was doing a "due diligence" test of the system.

"So far we're satisfied with the process," Hughes says. "So far so good."

UPDATE, 6:15 P.M.: The Board of Elections and Ethics will update voter history information daily during the early voting period, meaning campaigns and anyone else who cares will be able to see who has and hasn't voted yet after early polling starts Aug. 30.

In Maryland, the State Board of Elections will release a daily voter summary, which will include voter counts down to the legislative district level. And campaigns or other interested parties will be able to subscribe to daily voter history updates for a fee.

Photo by Mark Gail/The Washington Post

By Mike DeBonis  |  August 2, 2010; 4:30 PM ET
Categories:  Adrian Fenty , DCision 2010 , The District , Vincent Gray  
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"meaning campaigns and anyone else who cares will be able to see who has and hasn't voted yet after early polling starts Aug. 30."

Wait, so two-week early voting and same day registration are not just for Election Day but for Primary Day as well? I guess I had assumed it was Election Day only.

Posted by: outlawtorn103 | August 2, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

Yep, all of the measures will be in place for the Sept. 14 primary, except for electronic pollbooks. Those will be used during the early voting period, but not on Primary Day. They will be used, however, on General Election Day.

Posted by: Mike DeBonis | August 3, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

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