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A slow start for primary day in the District

A quick stop this morning at West Elementary School and precinct 54 in Ward 4, then I was off to Taft Junior High School, where I got a taste of District of Columbia elections 50 years ago.

First, a word about Precinct 54, on the 1300 block of Farragut St. NW. It was not what I expected. At 9:30 a.m., only about 200 people had voted. Far more people had voted by that hour when Barack Obama's name was on the ballot two years ago. Is this a good or a bad thing for Mayor Adrian Fenty, who carried precinct 54 by a wide margin in the 2007 Democratic primary? Too soon to tell. But turnout is the thing to watch.

Three other voting precincts in Northwest and Northeast D.C. that I passed along the way to Taft also seemed moribund, though plenty of campaign signs and workers were on the sidewalks. No long lines of voters waiting to enter the buildings -- that’s for sure.

Taft Junior High, located off South Dakota Ave. in Northeast, was also quiet, but for good reason. It's now Taft Diagnostic Center, no longer the voting precinct where I stood on May 3, 1960 handing out instructional materials to voters on how to cast ballots in the city's second official District-wide primary election in 86 years. District residents would still be unable to vote in the presidential contest in November 1960. Was the May '60 primary a try out? Not sure.

I was one of several Howard University government students performing that service for extra credit. Later in the day, we would go to the National Guard Armory to help other volunteers count the ballots. That was the first in a series of Election Day ballot-counting disasters that would plague the board of elections in the ensuing decades. Too few ballot counters, ballot boxes falling off delivery trucks; imagine it, and it happened.

We’ve come a long way in our electioneering. From handing out fliers and street corner rallies in the '60s to today's robo-calls, television ads, mass mailings and door-to-door canvassing.

We’ve also come a long way as a city. Taft, where I stood in May 1960 with a Howard student who would later become my wife, was one of the formerly all-white schools where students staged walkouts to protest the expected presence of black students in the building following the Supreme Court's '54 school desegregation decision.

Change, and no change: Despite it all, there are still virtually one-race schools in this city.

Ah, but today is about the future.

Weather-wise, this is a great day for voting.

By Colbert King  | September 14, 2010; 11:56 AM ET
Categories:  King  | Tags:  Colbert King  
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Comments


Black voter apathy. So, what else is new?

If black voters are as motivated to get out the of the house and vote for white Democrats in 2010 as they were to vote for a black on in 2008, then the Democrats have nothing to worry about? Hmm?

49 days until Election Day. See you at the polls Dims.

Posted by: screwjob21 | September 14, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Maybe some of these so called missing voters already voted in early voting or through liberalized absentee voting rules. I read that as of last Friday some 22,000 votes had been cast.

Or maybe Mr. King there just ins't much of a story here. I'll bet the turnout is typical for a normal mayoral primary contest irrespective of all the voting rule changes.

Posted by: NewEra | September 14, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Mr. King...your columns are often so helpful to readers who do not know about the history of Washington, DC. I came in 1963 and was so grateful that at least we could finally vote for President. I was at Cardozo and wondered why there were all these platforms with nothing on them. When the white folks left...they took all the statues with them! Perhaps, that was just as well.

Posted by: judithclaire1939 | September 14, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Mr. King...your columns are often so helpful to readers who do not know about the history of Washington, DC. I came in 1963 and was so grateful that at least we could finally vote for President. I was at Cardozo and wondered why there were all these platforms with nothing on them. When the white folks left...they took all the statues with them! Perhaps, that was just as well.

Posted by: judithclaire1939 | September 14, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Screwjob apparently knows nothing about the demographics or voting patterns of the District. Black voter apathy??? Mid-term primaries usually have low turnout in general and it has nothing to do with race or skin color. At my own polling place in NW--where the residents are a mix of black, white, and Latino--there were very few people of any color or ethnicity voting at 8 am. In 2008 my husband and I had to wait hours in a long (and mostly white) line to vote; today we were in and out in 10 minutes.

Posted by: MrDarwin | September 14, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

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