Photo by Kheel Center, Cornell University on Flickr.
A former Washington City Paper
reporter intern says he never registered to vote in DC while living here, because his vote doesn’t count. This is an all-
common attitude among many residents. But your vote does count in DC, in a great many important ways.
Matt Bevilacqua, who now writes for Next American City in Philadelphia, wrote today that it took him 2 whole afternoons and $65.47 to register to vote in Pennsylvania, thanks to the state’s new voter ID law.
Impeding voters from reaching the polls is a travesty of democracy, regardless of which side it favors. So is DC’s lack of federal voting representation, a case District officials are pressing at the DNC this week. Still, Congress is not the only game in town that affects people’s lives. Nobly squeezing in a mention of DC’s second-class status, Bevilacqua also makes a surprising revelation:
I never bothered to register to vote [in DC], since the District doesn’t have voting representation at the federal level. ... So for the interim I sent absentee ballots back home, even though they couldn’t have meant much in true-blue New York. At least I could help keep my Congresswoman in office.
Wait. What about local elections? Is it more important to cast a vote for a Congresswoman far away than to vote for a mayor, councilmembers, and others? Even when the Congressional vote “couldn’t have meant much”? Even for a
intern at a local paper which mostly covers local issues?
An online bio says Bevilacqua grew up on Long Island. The only Congresswoman on Long Island is Carolyn McCarthy, and in fairness to Bevilacqua, some people thought she was vulnerable in 2010 even after winning over 60% of the vote in the 3 prior elections. She ended up still getting 54% of the vote and winning by 12,345 votes.
I don’t want to pick on Bevilacqua. His chain of thought is very common in DC. A campaign worker circulating nominating petitions in my neighborhood not long ago said that very few people they’d spoken to were registered. Instead, they said things like, “I’m registered where my vote counts,” the canvasser told me.
DC residents’ votes count here. The margin of victory in last year’s special election for DC Council was 1,732 votes — about 1/7 the margin in McCarthy’s closest race in a decade. In the April primary, the margin for the same at-large seat was 1,746 votes, under 3% of the total. Even blowout ward races are decided by a few thousand votes.
The council votes on how much funding Metro gets, whether to build streetcars, where there are bike lanes, how often trash gets picked up, policies on affordable housing, whether to regulate Uber, or tax yoga. Thousands of people flooded Council offices with emails to complain about a price floor for Uber (and then it turned out Uber was twisting the facts a bit), or to oppose including services like yoga in the sales tax. How many of them are registered in a “true blue” (or “reliably red”?) district, in an electorally safe state, and believe their vote matters more there than here?
I’ve lived in 4 different states since reaching voting age, and never had the chance to vote in a competitive race for the House or Senate. I have a lot more influence over my life by voting in DC than in any of those past homes.
If you live in the District, you should vote here. It’s the right thing to do. It gives you a stronger voice in local affairs. Plus, the more voters we have, the stronger the case for voting rights, which all Americans deserve. That includes Pennsylvania residents who don’t have the time or money to get burdensome voter IDs, and all of the people of the District of Columbia.
Update: If you live in DC but aren’t registered, you can register here.
Also, WCP editor Mike Madden notes that Bevilacqua was an intern, and a GW undergrad, while living in DC. I’ve corrected the reference to him as a “reporter.” It’s more reasonable for undergrads not to register, though they still should; ANC elections can have a lot of influence on student life, in particular. Plus, many people remain unregistered long after college.