Fewer D.C. voters turned out to cast ballots ahead of the city's Democratic primary election than in 2010, leaving mayoral candidates working to get out the vote for what's expected to be a close race Tuesday.
Voter turnout could be crucial to victory. A little more than 14,000 voters cast ballots during the two-week early voting period compared to more than 21,000 in 2010, according to the D.C. Board of Elections, which projected about a 40 percent turnout for the primary election.
Voters will choose between eight mayoral candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, which in the past has been the presumptive winner of the general election, given the party's overwhelming advantage in city politics.
But the allegiance of nearly a quarter of the city's Democratic electorate is untested, with 25 percent of those voters registering in the time since the last mayoral primary in which Vincent C. Gray defeated former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.
From September 2010 through February, the District registered about 84,000 new Democrats, according to an analysis by The Washington Times of available voter registration statistics. The D.C. Board of Elections was unable to provide registration statistics for two months during that period.
Voters added over the last four years constitute 25 percent of the 337,980 Democrats registered in the District as of Feb. 28. Expanded to include other political parties, the voter rolls turned over by nearly 28 percent — with just over 123,000 new voters added.
The addition has not significantly increased the number of registered voters in the District, since the Board of Elections regularly removes inactive voters from the rolls.
Chuck Thies, campaign manager for Mr. Gray, noted that it often takes a handful of election cycles before new residents get involved in local politics.
"If you didn't vote in the last presidential election, you probably don't know where your polling place is and probably will not vote in this election," Mr. Thies said.
But that won't stop candidates from trying to garner last minute support anyhow.
"We will be in all eight wards," said Bo Shuff, campaign manager for D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser of Ward 4 who has emerged as the principle challenger to Mr. Gray.
The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, and winter weather that may have hampered early voter turnout should give way to clear and temperatures in the 60s. The Bowser and Gray campaigns will be offering rides to the polls for residents — a tactic often used to get older residents to the voting booths.
The move may be the best way to lock down support among older residents, who are typically more likely to vote.
About 24 percent of new voters added to the rolls since September 2010 have forgone party affiliation, with 29,055 registering instead as independents. Those new registrants are more likely to be part of the wave of young residents moving into the city, said Michelle Diggles, a senior political analyst for the D.C.-based centrist think tank Third Way.
"I think the reason we are seeing an uptick in new independent voter registration is because so many young millennials are moving into the city," Ms. Diggles said. "This has become an incredibly young city."
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