A nail-biter in D.C.’s Ward 8 council race could take a week to resolve

A nail-biter in D.C.’s Ward 8 council race could take a week to resolve

By Abigail Hauslohner and Aaron C. Davis, Washington Post, April 29 at 10:02 PM

Two D.C. Council hopefuls are waiting to learn the outcome of a special election that was too close to call Tuesday night — and that could result in a setback for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s agenda.

On Wednesday morning, ­LaRuby May, Bowser’s pick for the Ward 8 council seat, was leading her closest opponent by just 152 votes. The D.C. Board of Elections said that more than 1,000 special ballots remained uncounted and that a final tally was probably a week away.

Tuesday’s special elections to determine successors to Bowser, in Ward 4, and to the late Marion Barry, in Ward 8, were widely seen as a test of the new mayor’s power and influence in District politics.

In Ward 4, a little-known Bowser political aide, Brandon Todd, easily won the seat she vacated on the council. But in Ward 8, May, another former staffer, was clinging to her narrow lead over Trayon White, a Barry protege.

White’s remaining within striking distance of May signaled that anti-Bowser sentiment may live on in a ward where thousands supported then-Mayor Vincent C. Gray, the only candidate in last year’s Democratic mayoral primary who lived east of the Anacostia River.

In Ward 8, Gray beat Bowser by 26 percentage points. And although he campaigned there for her later, Barry also opposed Bowser in that contest.

Even if May prevails, the close race to replace Barry appeared likely to limit how much Bowser could lean on May in the next year for votes that may be controversial in the ward. With only a year and a half remaining in Barry’s term, the race for the full term will begin in earnest in less than a year, giving May little time to distinguish herself.

Denise Toliver, a spokeswoman for the Board of Elections, said the special ballots — commonly known as “provisional” ballots elsewhere — account for voters who cast ballots on the same day they registered, residents who completed a change of address form, or people who voted in the wrong precinct.

Some of those voters will now have to validate their ballots at the Board of Elections for their votes to be counted. “Some people did same-day registration, and they had no proof of residency, so they have 10 days to come in to show their proof of residency,” Toliver said.

Leaving the Board of Elections on Wednesday morning, White said his team was already looking into ways to bring supporters back to validate their ballots. He also called for fairness in the final count, and he warned of a recount if the provisional ballots break in May’s favor.

“We want to go in good faith, but we know that D.C. has not been a place where you can go in good faith, at least in politics,” White said, saying he fears interference in the counting to help his competitor, May, a close ally of Bowser.

“We are going against the mayor’s mafia, and good faith is not going to be good enough.”

Ward 8 residents who voted for White said the 30-year-old, who grew up in the ward, was able to connect with young people, particularly young men, better than other candidates. It’s unclear how many young people, particularly first-time voters, turned out to vote for White on Tuesday. But if he was able to mobilize a sufficient number of people with no prior voting history, it could mean victory for White after the special ballots are counted.

“We really went into every crack and crevice to get people to the polls — real grass-roots work,” White said. “I know we have a lot of votes still out there.”

May, meanwhile, sent a message to her supporters, urging them to “stick with [her] in this extra period and together we will bring the victory home.” Responding to White’s suggestion that the counting process might not be entirely fair, May said, “I have every bit of confidence that the process will be fair and transparent.”

Validating the special ballots will keep the pressure on both campaigns over the next week. Anyone a campaign transported from a nursing home, a low-income housing complex or even a homeless shelter who did not have proper identification to register will have to be found again and driven back to the election office to have that person’s vote counted.

To pull ahead of May, White will need roughly 65 percent of the special ballots to break his way.

White said election officials told him Wednesday morning that they were working to release a batch of provisional ballots by next Tuesday and to have a final tally by May 8.

He said elections officials would not allow his campaign to observe the counting of special ballots.

The board has until May 14 to certify the election results.

In Ward 4, Todd, Bowser’s former constituent-services director and chief campaign fundraiser, led his nearest competitor by nearly 2 to 1 in unofficial results.

But in Ward 8, in a crowded field of 11 candidates, White emerged as the anti-
establishment vote, siphoning support from other candidates — including Barry’s son, Marion Christopher Barry, and Sheila Bunn, who had worked as a top aide to Gray.

Both Todd and May jumped to early leads in the special election with the help of hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from Bowser donors and endorsements from her political allies.

The two became targets of criticism from competitors over their relationships with Bowser, and they spent considerable time in the campaign’s closing weeks assuring voters that they would be independent voices on the council.

Speaking Tuesday night, May promised to work “overtime” to finish the job to win Barry’s vacant seat.The death in November of Barry, a D.C. legend and four-term mayor, marked the end of an era for Washington politics — especially for the District’s poorest neighborhoods in Ward 8, where Barry held the council seat for a combined 15 years.

Still, May and Todd welcomed Bowser’s public support in the campaign’s closing days.

Bowser headlined get-out-the-vote events with Todd and May during the first day of early voting in each ward.

And on Tuesday, a grinning Bowser arrived at May’s campaign office at 7 a.m., just as a dawn rally for dozens of supporters wrapped up with chants of May’s campaign slogan: “So Eight may rise!”

May, a Bowser field director during her run for mayor last year, outspent White 16 to 1, and her campaign featured multiple surprise appearances by the mayor, including two on Election Day.

Perry Stein, Victoria St. Martin and Mary Pat Flaherty contributed to this report.

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