Voter Apathy Affects D.C. Midterm Elections for Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners

Voters cast their ballot despite the rainy weather at Washington Metropolitan High School in the Shaw neighborhood Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Jacinth Jones, Howard University News Service.

Jacinth Jones
Howard University News Service

Roughly two-thirds of Washington D.C.’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) seats have no candidate running for election or have candidates cruising to victory unopposed. Out of the 37 seats, Ward 1 has 26 uncontested candidates.

Commissioners discuss a wide range of policies and programs to better each ward. These community level decisions include: recreation, parking, traffic and development decisions. A commissioner who is not paid makes decisions that often times aren’t highly publicized, which may contribute to the general lack of interest in their policy-making.

Election Day brought heavy rain and strong gusts of wind into the area since dawn. At noon 201 voters had already casted their ballot at Washington Metropolitan High School.

Damon Dixon, a Ward 1 resident, casted his ballot at the Washington Metropolitan High School in the Shaw neighborhood. As a D.C. Metropolitan native, he finds it discouraging that there is a lack of participation to run and vote for ANC candidates.

“It is slightly disheartening that there isn’t more competition because if there was, it would motivate people to want to do better. If you run unopposed and you feel like you got this then you don’t have to do much for the neighborhood you represent,” said Dixon.

D.C. resident Victoria Chao casted her ballot at Banneker Recreation Center and lamented over the low visibility of the position, which leaves voters like herself feeling unaware of candidates and their platforms.

“The only reason I actually know the name of my commissioner is because I’m on a neighborhood listserv and they’ll occasionally send out emails with her name on it but otherwise I don’t really quite know what her role is,” Chao said.

Dixon shared similar sentiments, saying, “I wouldn’t be surprised that most people aren’t aware, not that interested or even know what an ANC commissioner can do. I actually lived next door to a commissioner a few years ago and I had no idea. It’s something that’s not right in your face like higher offices like mayor, senator, or chairman of the council.”

While casting his vote at Washington Metropolitan High School,  Jacob Ortiz had the same issue and felt that education may play apart in residents detachment from the position.

“I think it has a lot to do with apathy. It’s unfortunate especially when most residents in Ward 1 are people of color. It is an issue that keeps people from voting. Lots of our people don’t even know what an ANC commissioner is,” he said. “I’ve talked to people about it and a lot of folks say what’s that? It is the city’s responsibility to inform and the lack of information that’s given can attribute to residents’ disinterest.”

“Is there a problem with ANC commissioners being transparent about their jobs and what they do? Not necessarily. I worked in the bars around U Street and many ANC commissioners from the neighborhoods are pretty involved and available,” said Dixon.

Aris Payne-Tsoupros has been a Ward 1 resident for seven years and agrees with Dixon. His neighborhood is represented by Anita Norman. Payne-Tsoupros said the Howard University graduate has been very active. “I think it’s hard for someone to step up and do that but our representative Anita Norman has been pretty responsive to any requests we’ve had. So in the last since I’ve been here like seven years I’ve been pretty happy with how it’s been going,” he said.

The sleeping dog theory, which says that people aren’t involved in politics unless a policy affects them negatively, appears to be in effect in D.C. neighborhoods. Residents don’t appear to be proactive in their community unless something begins to affect them negatively. However, time can only tell what implications this will have on the midterms and beyond.