Precinct 66 Sticks to the Rules, Voters Voice their Concerns

The atmosphere was calm and organized. Young and elderly citizens entered the polling room in the former Bertie Backus Middle School building at 5171 South Dakota Avenue, Northeast. They were ready to cast their ballots for the District’s primary elections and poll workers were prepared to help.

“The turnout has been low compared to past elections most likely due to early voting,” explained Dr. Deborah Evans, precinct 66 co-captain.

Evans has headed voting poll sites for many years. With poise and patience, she moved from the paper and touch-screen ballot clerk stations to the ballot box station, making sure activities ran smoothly.

“When voting is completed, we must seal the machines and lock them. The police pick up the machines for the final count. We only provide preliminary numbers,” Evans said.

Every hour, she gave a report of the preliminary numbers to poll watchers. Each candidate is allowed to have two poll watchers to hold voters and workers accountable to rules set forth by the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics, she said.

Margaret Cox, the precinct’s touch-screen ballot clerk for the last three elections, saw voters eager to vote electronically.

“Everyone who has used [the computer] has really liked it because it’s fast,” she said.

Cox described the touch-screen technology as more convenient than the initial electronic device that was used a few years ago. The former system required the recharging of multiple cards that were placed in the machines to activate them, but the newer one requires one cartridge that is placed in the machine to set a new ballot entry for the respective voter.

“More of the young people use the touch-screen,” Cox said.

“Some people are fearful of the touch-screen ballots, particularly the elderly voters,” said Sharman Tillman, Ward 5 paper-ballot clerk for 20 years.

When voters present their voter’s card – blue for Democratic, yellow for Republican and pink for Statehood – Tillman gives them a paper ballot placed inside a secrecy sleeve. She also overseas the collection of spoiled ballots. Voters are allowed to get three clean ballots if they make a mistake on their current ballot.

“If we notice a consistent error, we’ll help with them with the instructions,” Tillman said.

Outside, poll workers walked to the cars to pass out paper ballots and give instructions. This was all part of the curbside voting station for senior voters or those with disabilities.

Precinct co-captain Cosby Hunt, wearing a red, white and blue top hat, assisted with curbside voting.

The responsibility of organizing the poll sites is a collaborative effort.

“The day before the elections, voting equipment was dropped off at 10:30 a.m.,” Hunt said. “Poll workers met at 6 p.m. to set up.”

In admiration, Hunt noted the dedication of the veteran poll workers, who he said he is content to be able to rely on.

“The captain before me is now 86,” said Hunt, who has been a captain since 2006.

“The great thing about this neighborhood is there’s a lot of longevity. Some people have been here since the fifties,” he continued, noting a long-time history of many local residents with one another.

Residents who had finished voting exited the precinct with specific issues in mind that they want the mayor to tackle.

Education reform was a reoccurring topic during elections.

“The school system is improving, but there needs to be more recreational activities for the youth, especially for underprivileged children,” said Inez Harrison, Ward 5 resident since 1960.

Other District problems that Harrison brought up are lack of available jobs and housing.

“There needs to be more affordable housing all over,” she said.

As Harrison commented, another D.C. resident chimed in saying, “especially in Ward 8. No matter who gets to be mayor, no one ever seems to really help Ward 8.”

Harrison enjoys the friendly, family atmosphere of the Ward 5. She said while there is not much crime in the ward, a return of consistent police patrolling would be nice. 

Rosa Harrison, a one-year Ward 5 resident who lived in Ward 4 for 20 years, seeks a leader who genuinely approaches community development and relations.

“We need someone who is involved by speaking to the community and not at the community,” she said. “I don’t think the present mayor has concern for citizens.”

“We need someone who’ll take the input of citizens, which is how the government should be run; not someone who looks down at the citizens as if they have no concern; someone who addresses citizens other than during elections,” she continued before she walked off, confident in her political stance.