Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean emerged victorious in Tuesday’s non-binding D.C. Democratic primary. Voting rights activists hailed the primary as a success despite the fact that five of the six major candidates chose not to participate.
While acting as a boost to the Dean campaign, the primary also raised awareness of the District’s lack of representation in Congress, said sociologist and pollster Mark David Richards, one of the primary’s main organizers. D.C. has no voting representation in either house of Congress.
“I am absolutely ready to celebrate,” Richards said in an interview Tuesday night.
“Over the year, we tracked over three hundred stories nationally,” said Richards, referring to the attention the primary generated in the media. “If we would have done nothing, we would have zero to five stories.”
With all 142 precincts reporting, Dean, who garnered 43 percent of the vote, beat the Rev. Al Sharpton, who netted 34 percent. Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (Ill.) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), the other major democratic candidates on the ballot, finished with 12 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Braun dropped out of the race late Wednesday night and will endorse Dean this week.
According to results compiled by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, 16 percent of registered Democrats in the District voted in the primary.
Bill O’Field, the board’s public information officer, said while the primary caused some minor complications, everything went smoothly.
“We had polling places accessible to disabled voters through new machines and we were experiencing for the first time what that was like,” said O’Field, referring to the use of new electronic machines designed to make voting easier.
Despite voting rights activists’ assertions that the primary generated widespread support for D.C., Tuesday’s events were overshadowed by the Democratic National Committee’s refusal to support a contest that preceded the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, two events that traditionally signal the start of primary season.
Citing DNC disapproval, Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.), former Gen. Wesley Clark and Sens. John Edwards (N.C.), John Kerry (Mass.) and Joseph Lieberman (Conn.) pulled out of the primary in November.
George Peabody, who voted at Saint Mary’s Court, said he was unsure whether it was a good idea for city officials to schedule the primary before the Iowa caucuses, which will take place Monday.
“I’m puzzled. I think it’s irrelevant, but we’ll see if it means anything,” he said.
At the International Monetary Fund building on 19th Street, workers said the turnout was disappointing.
“It’s been terrible compared to other years,” said a female polling worker who declined to be identified. As of 3:30 p.m., only 15 people had voted at the IMF, she said.
Christopher Arterton, a professor at GW’s School of Political Management and an election expert, said the primary was a “pure beauty contest” because it was non-binding and didn’t feature the whole field of candidates.
D.C. voters will go to the polls again Feb. 14 in a binding election.
“In the grand scheme of things it didn’t achieve what it had hoped,” he said.
But he said the primary was a large event and might have some effect on the Democratic nomination process.
“When you have this many people organizing and voting, it is hard to deny that there is some legitimacy to that process,” Arterton said.
Democrats and voting rights activists still consider the primary to be a victory, despite the absence of some candidates.
A. Scott Bolden, chair of the D.C. Democratic Party, said his group was happy with the results.
“From the party’s perspective, we are quite pleased with the turnout because it sends a strong message,” he said.
Bolden added that D.C. Democrats are seeking to have the first binding primary of the 2008 election season.
“It was a historic day for D.C. voting rights activists and for D.C. citizens in general,” he said.
Ilir Zherka, executive director of D.C. Vote, an organization that advocates full representation in Congress, called the primary a “smashing success.”