Early voting figures in the District of Columbia show competitive local races are driving residents to the polls, with turnout nearly double what it was in the 2010 general election.
In that race, 13,415 people took advantage of early voting. This year, 25,300 votes were cast from Oct. 20 to Nov. 1, according to D.C. Board of Elections public affairs specialist Denise Tolliver.
The city's strong liberal tilt — Democrats account for more than 76 percent of the 456,633 registered voters — typically makes the primary races tighter struggles than general elections. But a closely watched mayoral race and a historic vote on marijuana legalization appear to be pushing more people to the polls. Voting officials are sure to face heat if unprecedented turnout delays results, especially after extensive delays in counting April primary votes. A printing error in the official voter guide "tested severely" Mayor Vincent Gray's faith in the independent agency. On Monday, the Justice Department indicated it plans to keep a close eye on D.C. elections.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald C. Machen appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan P. Hooks to oversee the local elections. Hooks will watch for complaints of election fraud and voting rights abuses in the District, in consultation with Justice Department headquarters.
Independent mayoral candidates David Catania and Carol Schwartz both want to peel off support from Democratic nominee Muriel Bowser. Either would need solid backing from the city's small base of unaffiliated and Republican voters to become the city's first mayor from outside the Democratic Party. New residents could be key to that effort and, luckily for both, the District allows same-day voter registration. To register on Election Day, potential voters need to show up to their local precinct with proof of Washington residency, such as a current utility bill, bank statement or paycheck that shows name and address.
In a statement, Machen's office noted that federal law protects against such crimes as intimidating or bribing voters, buying and selling votes, altering vote tallies, stuffing ballot boxes, and marking ballots for voters against their wishes or without their input. “Over the past several years, we have been aggressive in our efforts to protect the integrity of elections in the District of Columbia,” he said.
Members of Congress have questioned the Justice Department's influence on D.C. elections. During a congressional hearing convened one week after the primary, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was confronted on the timing of the Justice Department's plea bargain with D.C. businessman Jeffrey Thompson, a deal that brought to light corruption allegations related to Gray's 2010 campaign, questioning whether it might have influenced the electoral process.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
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