WASHINGTON, D.C. — Across the river from the White House, in a parked car outside of Hendley Elementary School in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 8, Constance Stevenson and her husband Benjamin recalled a time when both D.C. residents and African Americans weren’t allowed to vote.
The couple, both in their eighties, said that history makes it all the more important their votes for the 2016 presidential election are counted today.
“We had a hard time voting when we was coming up, we didn’t have the vote,” Benjamin said.
Constance agreed, adding, “We got the opportunity to vote and I think we should take advantage of it.”
Moments later, an attendant helping handicapped voters came to the window of the car to collect their ballots. Both had cast their votes for Hillary Clinton. Constance described voting for a woman as “an experience,” comparing it to how she felt when she cast her vote for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Presidential elections occupy a unique space in the District of Columbia. Residents only gained the right to vote for president in 1961, when Congress ratified the 23rd Amendment, which granted the District three electors in the Electoral College. To this day, the District’s only representation in Congress is a delegate who is allowed to introduce legislation but not allowed a vote.
Since being granted an elector in presidential elections, the District has always voted Democratic. That’s due, in large part, to its demographic makeup, which is 46 percent black, 40.6 percent white, and 10.4 percent Hispanic or Latino.
Both Wards 7 and 8 are almost entirely black neighborhoods (94 percent and 93 percent, respectively). They are also some of the poorest in the city — 22 of the 28 economically challenged neighborhoods in the city are located east of the river, in Wards 7 and 8. Just 60 percent of those low-income neighborhoods were located east of the river back in 1990 — an almost 20 percent increase in less than two decades.
“I think folks are really just getting tired and, frankly, getting scared.”
“We’re really at a turning point in our city where people on this side of the river really feel a strain to express their opinions and really flex their political muscle,” Markus Batchelor, a candidate for State Board of Education, told ThinkProgress. “A lot of things, in recent year, have been done to us, but not by us or for us. So I think folks are really just getting tired and, frankly, getting scared.”
Outside of the elementary school, Batchelor, a precocious 23-year-old, was doing what many local candidates do on Election Day — handing out pamphlets, greeting voters in person, coordinating rides for voters who needed to get to another polling location, and thanking voters for their time, all while remaining careful not to get closer than 50 feet to the entrance of the polling location (a barrier mandated by the D.C. Board of Elections).
A few feet from Batchelor, Adé Inniss was also making a last-minute case to voters on behalf of Tierra Jolly, a Ward 8 resident running for re-election to the D.C. State Board of Education.
“There’s a real concern about the direction of this country, there’s a real concern about facilitating the proper direction for our whole area. Even having this brother here Markus and Tiara Jolly, concerned citizens who are running for office. I’m really impressed by this,” Inniss said. “I’m inspired, actually, to see that people are not apathetic. That people care.”
Passion was a common theme among voters throughout Wards 7 and 8. It was an unusually warm, sunny day for November in D.C., and none of the polling places were experiencing the intimidation issues reported elsewhere in the country, or the lines that were so prevalent just across the river in D.C.’s more affluent neighborhoods.
Outside of the John Carroll Nalle Elementary School in Ward 7, Brigette — who did not provide her last name — let out an enthusiastic cry of relief that her vote had been cast.
“We can’t let that crazy guy in the office!” she said, clearly referring to the Republican candidate for president Donald Trump. “He’s not going to help me, or help you! We don’t have enough money.”
“If you want me to be honest, I believe that we are going to be in trouble if Trump wins,” said Verona Lewis, a Ward 7 resident handing out voter literature for her daughter La Keshia Lloyd-Lee, a candidate for the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission. “He’s so arrogant.”
But voters expressed more than just distaste for Trump — many were also clearly excited to cast their vote for a woman president.
“You still see them coming out in droves, even though we feel the countrywide apathy towards whether we vote or not.”
“I feel really good about putting her in place as far as our leader of the free world,” Linda Green, who cast her vote at C.W. Harris Elementary School in Ward 7, said. “Because I really believe she has the means to do it. Besides being a president, it’s a woman, a mother, a grandmother. She emphasizes what it means to be a go-getter woman.”
Like many of the residents in Wards 7 and 8, Green voted for Obama twice, and his presidency meant a lot to her. But now she’s ready to see the next barrier broken.
“First black president, it felt that it wasn’t just about him, it was about the struggles that had come before him. It was a magical moment, a tear-dropper moment,” Green said “Now it’s time for that girl power!”
Citizens in Wards 7 and 8 might not live in a hotly contested battleground, but they are still determined to make their voices heard on a local and national level.
“It’s a testament to the volition of the people,” Inniss said. “You still see them coming out in droves, even though we feel the countrywide apathy towards whether we vote or not.”