Feel like vomiting at the thought of a razor-close national election that could help determine whether an increasingly authoritarian and racist party seizes control of Congress? Good news, D.C. residents: There’s nothing you can do about it! Might as well turn off CNN and watch the local races instead.
About 109,400 people have already voted so far via mail-in ballots and early voting centers, which will likely be a pretty good chunk of total turnout. Four years ago, in the last mayoral election, there were about 231,700 ballots tallied.
But if you still haven’t voted yet and prefer doing things old school, the D.C. Board of Elections can fill you in on where to pull the lever. Or you can grab the ballot the city mailed you (every registered voter should have gotten one) and take it to a dropbox (or a regular mailbox if you feel like putting your faith in the notoriously flaky USPS).
If you’re one of those procrastinators who was waiting to choose candidates at the last minute, the fine folks at the Post, Axios, and WAMU/DCist have voter guides (or you can check our endorsement tracker and let that guide you). But rest easy that most races aren’t all that competitive in this heavily Democratic city: Mayor Muriel Bowser, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Shadow Rep. Oye Owolewa should all cruise to victory. Attorney General nominee Brian Schwalb is running unopposed, while Democratic nominees in the ward races (incumbent Councilmember Brianne Nadeau in Ward 1, Matt Frumin in Ward 3, and Zachary Parker in Ward 5) should also win handily.
The real action in the citywide races will be the at-large contest, where Loose Lips is duty-bound to inform you that you get TWO votes for two seats (under-voting for the at-large seats has been a huge problem in the past, where many people historically pick the Democratic nominee and then move on). For that reason, At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds is a heavy favorite to win re-election, since she has that “D” by her name. She may not be an especially adept lawmaker, but consider that no Democrat has lost to a non-Democrat since 1997 (and that was in a weird special election). Vote how you please, but Bonds will probably be back for another term on the Council no matter what. Blame a lack of ranked-choice voting and general civic engagement, if you’re feeling angsty.
The real race is for the other at-large seat, mandated by a very silly law to be held by a non-Democrat: in this case, it’s At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman. Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie is her toughest challenger considering his decade of experience on the Council. He’s stuck running for the at-large seat after he was booted from the attorney general ballot in the primary. The Post-endorsed Graham McLaughlin and ex-government staffer Karim Marshall are probably the only other candidates that will pick up any decent chunk of the vote: Statehood Green nominee David Schwartzmann, Ward 8 standby Fred Hill, and Republican Giuseppe Niosi are also running.
The race to unseat Silverman got ugly four years ago, and many of those same dynamics have played out this time around. The two-term incumbent styles herself as a champion for working people and a foe of big business, and that has predictably brought out Bowser’s backers and other moneyed interests eager to beat her. McDuffie has a bit more of a lefty streak on issues like racial justice and police reform than Silverman’s past challengers, but he’s moderate enough on economic issues to have attracted the backing of the political establishment against a lefty favorite like Silverman. This is made all the more complex by the fact that McDuffie has claimed more authenticity as a Black, native Washingtonian, compared to the White, Baltimore-raised Silverman.
Things got even weirder late in the race after the city’s Office of Campaign Finance decided to rule on a complaint against Silverman, filed by fellow hopeful Marshall, over a poll she ran in the Ward 3 primary this summer. Marshall argued that she unduly influenced the race by trying to show competing candidates that they didn’t stand a chance against establishment favorite Eric Goulet. The OCF didn’t rule on those merits, but still said Silverman shouldn’t have used campaign funds to poll a race she wasn’t participating in. She’s appealing that ruling (and some of her supporters believe it was politically motivated), but it has given her opponents ammunition to tar her as a dirty trickster in the campaign’s closing days. Even stranger: Someone seems to be paying for an army of bots on Twitter and Instagram to boost these negative stories about Silverman.
The outcome of the race won’t alter the balance of power on the Council all that much (the city’s left flank will claim a majority regardless), but Silverman has long been one of the more pugilistic members of the progressive guard and her ouster would send an interesting message. McDuffie, meanwhile, likely has aspirations for higher office and could use a Council platform to launch a future bid. Silverman enters as the favorite, but this is probably the only contest that will come down to the wire.
Make sure to flip your ballot over, too, and vote on the tipped minimum wage ballot measure, Initiative 82. You probably remember all the fighting about this from the last time it passed as Initiative 77 four years ago (the Council later reversed it). I-82 would essentially eliminate D.C.’s two-tiered minimum wage system and let tipped workers (like those in restaurants) make the same minimum wage as everyone else. The bickering has been less intense than last time around. Supporters believe I-82 will reduce wage theft and boost pay, while opponents argue it will cripple restaurants and cut pay for some servers. The measure passed handily in 2018, and there’s every reason to expect it will again. The question is whether the Council will look to repeal the measure, as they did last time around: A majority has told LL they won’t touch it, but you never know.
Spare a thought for the State Board of Education races, too. LL spent a lot of time learning about them so you don’t have to, but there are competitive races in wards 3, 5, and 6 to pay attention to.
LL and other City Paper staffers will be hitting up the election party scene to bring you the sights and sounds of the biggest night in D.C. politics, so check back soon for all the results and latest drama. See you on the other side.