BY BILL BROWN
It was a small city election with only 1157 votes cast, yet the national media covered it.
Most of the incumbents had no challengers, but the US State Department sent a busload of international visitors to see democracy in action.
Takoma Park was embarrassed by the election’s low turnout and foregone conclusion, but it was excited to see the results of new voting reforms including same-day-registation and a lower voting age.
So was the national and local media. Reporters and camera crews crowded the municipal building’s halls to interview 16 and 17-year old voters.
17-year-old John Williamson signs in to vote.
As expected, all incumbents were reelected.
The Ward 4 city council challenger Eric Mendoza withdrew his bid five days before the election. Still, his name was on the ballot and he won 10 votes. The incumbent Terry Seamens got 218.
The only other challenger was Elizabeth Wallace who registered as a write-in mayoral candidate last Friday. She was motivated by the lack of challengers this election. Her four day campaign earned her 63 votes. Incumbent Bruce Williams got 990.
Williams, Seamens and the rest of the city council: Seth Grimes (Ward 1), Tim Male (Ward 2), Kay Daniels-Cohen (Ward 3), Jarrett Smith (Ward 5), and Fred Schultz (Ward 6), will serve another 2 year term.
Elizabeth Wallace solicits votes outside polling place, Nov. 5.
Mayoral write-in candidate Wallace was disappointed that only about half of the 123 write-in votes reported Tuesday evening turned out in Wednesday’s more detailed tally to be hers. The other sixty were votes for other individuals – all different, or protest comments.
Even so, Wallace said she was happy about her effort. She said she was “proud of the people of Takoma Park” who were “willing to look at a newbie.”
She logged about 10 hours in all on her short, spontaneous campaign, she estimated. She talked to parents outside the school near her house, canvassed Old Town and the Sunday farmer’s market, and approached voters entering the polling place, the city’s community center.
It was “so much fun,” she said, to have lengthy conversations with people she would ordinarily have passed on the street without speaking to. She said she found things in common with them all.
For example, she said she struck up a conversation with a man leaving an Old Town restaurant and found they had a common link in astrophysics. Later, “he showed up to vote!” she said, though he was not planning to before they met.
One person told her “Now I have a reason to vote!,” she said. Responses like that made her feel as though she’d made the right decision.
Between campaign forays she visited her hospitalized father. He was raised in Takoma, DC, and her great-grandfather built a home on Baltimore Avenue, Takoma Park. When she entered her father’s hospital room, he asked “why aren’t you out looking for votes?,” she said.
She referred more than once to “next time.” Will she run again in 2015?
Not necessarily, she said, but if she doesn’t, she will work to encourage other challengers to step up.
Eric Mendoza also spoke of next time.
“Eric Mendoza will be in the next election.” He said in a statement to The Voice.
Mendoza visited the polls on election day. He lingered in the community center reception area chatting with friends and passersby.
One of those passing by was council member Kay Daniels-Cohen. Mendoza said, “my highlight of the day was when Kay Daniels Cohen approached me and was saying we need to talk.”
Kay Daniels-Cohen and Eric Mendoza talk at the community center Nov. 5. Photo provided by Eric Mendoza
“I felt like that kid who just got in trouble at school,” he said. But, Daniels-Cohen “had some very positive things to say to me things on how important I am to the youth , and how I’m the future of Takoma Park.”
Mendoza did not explain his reason for ending his campaign. He did say he felt regret on election day when voters said “I was coming to vote for you, now I have to vote for the other candidate.”
He was surprised to find he had 10 votes, a result, he speculated, of his door-to-door campaigning.
“It made me happy cause I knew those were day-to-day workers, rent payers and house owners who [were previously] clueless about issues such as duplicated taxes and other issues,” he said.
His plans for the future include bringing back Maple Avenue Day, which he feels will encourage communication with youth, elders, and police. He wants” to bring back he Haunted House for Halloween, and also a dog park.”
“It was great to be part of history,” said Mendoza of the election.
Adding to the sense of history being made, the US State Department called the city clerk mid-afternoon of election day and arranged to send a tour bus of international visitors. They were people of 21 countries including Spain, South Africa, Turkey, Phillippines, and Greece, according to deputy city manager Suzanne Ludlow.
Suzanne Ludlow, deputy city manager, conducting election-day tour for international visitors. Photo provided by John Pitt.
“They were in a program studying government and will be going to a number of cities in the US. Several were elections officials in their countries,” said Ludlow.
Ludlow conducted the tour, which she said she could do “without much prep,” because the city often host tours from other countries.
Official and certified
The Nov. 5 election results were officially certified at a short city council meeting Nov. 6. Chief Election Judge Marilyn Abbott presented a report.
The council, election judges and staff we’re intensely interested, wanting to know if the city voting reforms and new practices had changed voting patterns and turnout.
Some of the facts and figures discussed:
• 226 people voted early on the five days it was offered, the numbers increased daily from 12 on Oct. 30 to 78 on Nov. 3,
• 134 people between 16 and 17 years old registered, 59 of them voted. Most were from the city’s more affluent Wards 1,2,and 3.
• 67 US citizens took advantage of same-day voter registration, as did 27 non-US citizens (who are eligible to vote in city elections).
Chief Election Judge Marilyn Abbott presents her report to the council, Nov. 6.
The election judges were pleased that same-day registration eliminated provisional voting. Provisional voting allows a voter that can’t be found on the county voter list to cast a ballot, but after polls close judges must check the voter’s eligibility – finding his/her registration record.
The city clerk said that this election was “packed with action” due to media attention. Sometimes there were “more reporters than voters.” she said. It would have been nice to have more voters turn out, she said, but it would have been harder to handle.
Terry Seamens said that lowering the voting age limit gave him a “collateral benefit.” Because the issue had wide news coverage it was easier to convince non-citizens that they also had the right to vote.
Kay Daniels-Cohen said it “brought tears to my eyes” to talk to young teen voters one-on-one.
Not all of the numbers and statistics were available on time for the election certification. None of the missing data would change any outcomes, however. Missing were details such as the per-ward breakdown of mayoral write-in votes, or what times people voted – the latter information requested by council member Jarrett Smith.
Election judges: Chief Judge Marilyun Abbott, Jeffrey Noel-Nosbaum, James Roberts (back), Robin Schafer, and April Kessel. Not present for the photo were Oliver Njong and Jose Zambrana.
The council thanked the election judges repeatedly. After months of preliminary work they arrive at 6:00 AM on election day and stay until at least 10:00 PM. They are perhaps “the hardest working group in the city” said councilmember Seamens. City Clerk Jessie Carpenter and other staff also put in those long election day hours.
Mayor Williams asked the city clerk and chief election judge “would it be better to have certification on a Thursday instead of Wednesday?”
“Yes!” said city clerk Carpenter.