Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cowan presents brief history of elections in DC

Earlier this year, semi-retired journalist Edward Cowan (NYTimes 1962-86), shared "A Half-Century of DC Elections", part of his intermittent "Report to DC Voters."   The March 16, 2013 report is reprinted here.
If you go to the Web site of the Board of Elections and Ethics ( and click on Election Results, you can find tabulations of voting in elections going back to 1992.

As for earlier elections, the board's public information officer, Agnes Moss, said that I would have to come to the board's office (441 4th Street NW, Suite 250N) to see those results. When I arrived, Friday morning, Moss let me peruse a 1991 U.S. Senate committee document. It started with what looked like the beginning of city-wide balloting—the voting for Republican and Democratic party officials, such as national committee members and convention delegates, in 1956.

Those were strictly intra-party contests, with voting allowed only by people who had registered as belonging to a party. The first city-wide election of public officials came in 1968, when the voters chose a Board of Education consisting of three at-large members and eight ward representatives. The first election of a council and mayor occurred in 1974, after Congress passed the Home Rule Act.

Until that 1974 election, the District was governed by three "commissioners" appointed by the president. They adopted ordinances that laid down the law.

The Senate's "Election Laws in DC and a History of DC Elections"
The pages between the dusty-green covers of the report by the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia revealed some interesting facts about registration of DC voters, which in the 1950s was just starting.

In April 1956 (the year President Dwight Eisenhower won a second term), there were 26,636 registered Republicans and 31,772 Democrats, an R:D ratio of 5:6.

Four years later (when Eisenhower's vice president, Richard M. Nixon, lost to John F. Kennedy), there were 30,326 Republicans and 45,042 Democrats, an R:D ratio of 2:3.

By 1964 (when Republican Senator Barry Goldwater tried to unseat President Lyndon B. Johnson), combined registration had shot up to 216,519. The R:D ratio had tumbled to less than 1:4, or 35,796 Republicans and 154,432 Democrats. The tally for "other" was 26,291. "Registration valid for 1964 only," the Senate report noted.

In 1964, under the XXIII Amendment to the Constitution (ratified March 29, 1961), District residents voted in a presidential election for the first time. They gave 169,796 votes to Johnson and 28,801 to Goldwater. In all subsequent presidential contests, the Democratic candidate has won the District's three electoral college votes.

1968: Permanent Registration Starts
When permanent registration began in 1968, the R:D ratio had fallen to less than 1:5, or 30,005 Republicans and 152,832 Democrats.

The ratio fell further in ensuing years. By February 2013, the District had 30,002 Republicans registered and 379,611 Democrats, or a ratio of less than 1:12. /p>

That ratio makes it remarkable that Patrick Mara, a 38-year-old Republican running city-wide in a special election on April 23 to fill a vacant At Large council seat, has a good chance to win. In a similar election two years ago, Mara came in second, behind Vincent Orange and ahead of five other Democrats, including one, Sekou Biddle, who had been chosen by the DC Democratic committee to hold the seat ad interim.

Mara Would be Fourth Republican
If Mara wins, he would be the fourth Republican elected to the council and the first to sit since Carol Schwartz lost the Republican primary to him in 2008. Other Republicans elected were Jerry A. Moore Jr. in 1974-76-80 and David Catania in 1997-98-02. (In 2004, Catania became an Independent and retained his seat in 2006 and 2010.)

Let me not be coy. Reports to DC Voters endorsed Mara a couple of weeks ago. But his candidacy is not the point of this trip down memory lane.

My research at the Board of Elections uncovered a few other interesting facts.

Delegate: In the 1970, the Congress authorized DC voters to elect a nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives. The Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, Democrat, was elected in March 1971 and was re-elected nine times. In 1990, he ran in the Democratic mayoral primary and lost to Sharon Pratt Dixon, who also won the general election.

Fauntroy was succeeded as Delegate in 1990 by Eleanor Holmes Norton, Democrat, who has held that office since, having been elected 12 times in all.

Ward 2: Only one other District office has been held, to date, by only two persons, the Ward 2 seat on the Council. John Wilson captured it in 1974 (the first Home Rule election) and held it until he was elected council chairman in 1990. Jack Evans succeeded Wilson and has represented Ward 2 since the special election of April 30, 1991, making him the senior person on the 13-member council.

Other Gleanings
*Walter E. Washington won the mayoral election in 1974. In 1978, he lost the primary race for the Democratic nomination to Marion Barry Jr., who had been elected an At Large council member in 1974 and 1976.

*Barry went on to be elected mayor four times, the fourth ( in 1994) after serving prison time for possession of crack cocaine, and then to capture the Ward 8 council seat three times, in 2004-08-12.

*The first Ward 3 council member was Polly Shackleton, elected in 1974-78-82. She was, no doubt, the same Pauline E. Shackleton who in 1956 was elected alternate Democratic national committeewoman.

*Election results, city-wide and by ward, are available on the BoEE Web site back through 1992. For such detail from earlier elections, one must go to the board's office and shift through fading printouts in orange file folders.

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