Democrats in Washington, D.C., voted Tuesday in a non-binding presidential primary meant more to highlight their lack of full congressional representation than to help choose a presidential nominee.
Only four of the nine candidates vying for the nomination are on the ballot after pressure from the national Democratic party convinced the other five to back out.
National officials did not want the District of Columbia to take away attention from the voting in the traditional early states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Because of the primary’s unofficial status the district’s 39 delegates to the national party convention will not be chosen until February and March.
Even so, city leaders have called on residents to help publicize the city’s plight by picking the candidate they think would do the most for Washington residents’ civil rights.
“Yes, it’s an unusual primary, yes, it’s peculiar in many respects, but our situation is ironic and peculiar as well. That’s the message we’re sending today,” said Mayor Anthony Williams after casting his vote.
Activists declined to predict the turnout, but officials say participation in the previous primaries, held in May instead of January, has historically been light.
Williams was the 37th voter at his polling station two hours after it opened at 7 a.m. EST. Voting booths will close at 8 p.m. EST.
Taxation without a vote
Washington’s 572,000 citizens pay federal taxes but their single delegate in the House cannot vote in the chamber.
That situation is due to Washington’s status as a federal enclave, which makes it neither a state nor part of one. It took a 1961 constitutional amendment for residents to be able to vote in presidential elections.
Right-to-vote advocates in 2000 persuaded the city to emblazon its license plates with the slogan “Taxation Without Representation.”
By moving up the primary to Jan. 13 from its customary spot in May, city officials hoped to garner some of the national attention normally reserved for the New Hampshire primary, which has a tradition of being the first in the nation and is scheduled this year for Jan. 27.
But opposition from national Democratic Party leaders, who said the timing violated party rules, caused five of the major Democrats running for the party’s nomination -- Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut -- to cross their names from the ballot.
Seven lesser known names are competing with the remaining four Democratic candidates: front-runner Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, civil rights activist Al Sharpton and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
Pundits expect Dean to win despite the two black candidates on the ballot -- Moseley Braun and Sharpton. About 60 percent of Washington’s population is black and Democrats account for 76 percent of the city’s registered voters.
All four major candidates on the ballot support congressional voting rights for Washington. Kucinich, Moseley Braun and Sharpton advocate making the city the 51st state so it will be eligible under the Constitution to have two senators and one voting member in the House.