Voter turnout tepid in special election for D.C. Council

Scattered problems at polls mar vote

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Lukewarm turnout and a few scattered problems at the polls marked a special election Tuesday to fill an at-large D.C. Council seat.

Incumbent Sekou Biddle, who was appointed in January to the at-large seat vacated when Kwame R. Brown took office as council chairman, said he felt confident before voting at Shepherd Park Elementary School.

“I feel like we worked really hard to run a good campaign,” he said, asking rival campaign volunteers if they had “any last-minute suggestions” before he strode into the school to cast his vote alongside his wife, Cara.

Election results were not available Tuesday evening.

Among a handful of problems reported, people at Shepherd Park said the polls did not open until 7:15 a.m., prompting some potential voters to leave.

The precinct captain had forgotten to unlock the doors while she searched for a checklist, according to election officials. About 10 voters left, noting they would come back later in the day, and the “highly experienced” captain has apologized, D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics spokeswoman Alysoun McLaughlin said.

Some locations had minor power problems, and precincts in Foggy Bottom and Glover Park had each other’s poll books, prompting a 15-minute delay to arrange a swap.

Many thought heading into the vote that Mr. Biddle faced his most serious challenge from fellow Democrat and two-term former council member Vincent B. Orange.

Mr. Orange’s foot soldiers were stationed at polling places along the South Dakota Avenue corridor in Northeast, relatively secure ground for the former Ward 5 council member.

“He’s been good for our community, and I want to see him back in,” said Vickie Pessagno, after voting at Brookland Education Campus at Bunker Hill on Michigan Avenue in Northeast.

Deborah Hairston, who said she lost her teaching job in 2009 layoffs, noted the Washington Teachers’ Union had endorsed Mr. Orange.

“So I support him 100 percent,” she said, exiting the LaSalle-Backus Education Campus on Riggs Road in Northeast.

Bunker Hill voter Brenda Gaines said Mr. Orange was the only candidate she recognized from the campaign trail.

Turnout is historically low in D.C. special elections, with only 7.5 percent of eligible voters showing up for a special election in 1997, according to Ms. McLaughlin.

The pleasant weather should have been a boon for voter turnout, yet voters were returning to their routines after religious holidays and spring break for D.C. schoolchildren, observers said.

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