Lackluster voter turnout for Virginia and DC primaries

In Washington, D.C., and parts of Virginia, voters turned out to cast ballots for their party’s primary races. Though D.C. did have substantially more in-person voting than expected, turnout for these races was low to lackluster throughout the region.

On the minds of voters in all these areas — especially D.C. where they are also picking the Democratic candidate for mayor — has been law enforcement, education policies, the economy and democracy as a whole.

Tuesday’s primaries coincide with the Jan. 6 hearings taking place on Capitol Hill. Robert McKay, who was casting his vote at George C. Marshall High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, said testimony at those hearings about the intimidation of election workers after the 2020 election has given him a new appreciation for those working the polls.

“Today’s hearings highlighted the plight of election workers and what pressure they’ve come under since Jan. 6 … Just for helping people have access to votes, and to be able to cast their ballots.”

Below are updates from the polls and elsewhere during primary day in D.C. and Virginia.

D.C. primaries

Mayor Muriel Bowser shakes hands while supporters chant “four more years” as the D.C. primary elections begin. (WTOP/Nick Iannelli)

D.C. is holding primaries for mayor, attorney general and delegate to Congress. There are also races for several seats on the D.C. Council — the chair, one at-large seat and spots in Wards 1, 3 and 5. The Democrats are the only party with primary races; all other party candidates are running unopposed.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is looking for her third democratic nomination. In the heavily blue city, a nomination would pretty much assure the race in November.

If elected, Bowser would be the first mayor since Marion Berry to serve three times. But this time around she has a bit more competition, including two council members: Robert White and Trayon White.

As of June 19, the D.C. Board of Elections reported they had received approximately 63,383 votes for the primary election. That includes 51,378 in mail-in ballots (males and drop-box) and 12,005 from early voting centers.

With Election Day walk-in voting, officials are hoping to meet or beat the final tallies for the 2018 primaries in D.C., which drew 89,513 voters.

Last week, officials expressed concern over possible low voter turnout when mail-in and early voting tallies had only hit around 30,000, at that time.

WTOP’s D.C. Primary Voter Guide has more on where and how to vote, as well as links to the candidates’ websites. Vote centers are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.

What D.C. voters are talking about

The issue of crime and policing has dominated the primary in D.C. Marcus Bower told WTOP he’s voting for Robert White for mayor because he’s looking for a change.

“She’s [Mayor Muriel Bowser] been there for two terms and nothing has changed,” Bower said. “There’s more and more and more violence going on in D.C.”

Bowser faces challenges from council members Robert White and Trayon white, as well as James Butler.

Voters had other issues on their mind besides crime, including Dory Fox, a teacher who is looking for “thoughtful reconsideration of policing and funding for public schools.”

MaryAnn Miller said she’s voting for Bowser because of the mayor’s work to keep the city “in good financial shape” while supporting education and working to improve housing.

“I think she’s smart. She cares about the city,” Miller said. “And I think she’s kept us in a very good place during her previous terms.”

WTOP’s Nick Iannelli was at Chevy Chase Community Center as it opened on primary day, when Bowser came by to pass out hugs and handshakes to supporters. Some chanted “four more years,” when she arrived.

As Tuesday primaries coincide with other weekday priorities, some on Twitter decided to consolidate their message.

What else you need to know about DC’s primary

Outside of the high profile mayoral race, there were other offices up for grabs in today’s primary.

  • Attorney General Karl Racine isn’t running again, so Brian Schwalb, Ryan Jones and Bruce Spiva were in competition for the Democratic nomination.
  • Council Chair Phil Mendelson was challenged by Erin Palmer.
  • Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau faced Salah Czapary and Sabel Harris.
  • Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh wasn’t running for reelection. Tricia Duncan, Henry Cohen, Matthew Frumin, Eric Goulet, Ben Bergmann, Beau Finley, Monte Monash, Deirdre Brown and Phil Thomas all ran to succeed her. (Duncan, Cohen and Bergmann are still on the ballot but have suspended their campaigns.)
  • Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie didn’t run for reelection. Kathy Henderson, Gordon Fletcher, Art Lloyd, Zachary Parker, Gary To-To Johnson, Faith Gibson Hubbard and Vincent Orange all ran to succeed him.
  • At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds faced a challenge from Lisa Gore, Nate Fleming and Dexter Williams.
  • Del. to U.S. Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton is being challenged by Wendy Hamilton and Kelly Williams, and Shadow Rep. Oye Owoleya is being challenged by Linda L. Gray.

D.C. polling places and drop boxes were open until 8 p.m.


ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA — JUNE 21: A voter casts her ballot with her child at a polling station at Rose Hill Elementary School during the midterm primary election on June 21, 2022 in Alexandria, Virginia. In two of the most competitive districts in the U.S., Virginians will be choosing Republican nominees to take on Democratic incumbents Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) and Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA). (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In Virginia, many of the candidates were unopposed, and several ballot spots were determined by closed, party-sponsored events, such as conventions and firehouse primaries. But there were a couple of important primaries to watch on Tuesday.

Virginia District 8

In Virginia’s District 8, only one race is on the ballot — incumbent Democrat Don Beyer versus his challenger Victoria Virasingh.

Here are some of the estimated voter turnouts from throughout primary day.

Fairfax County: At 3:30 p.m., Fairfax had an estimated turnout of 2.5%, not including early or mail-in votes.

Arlington County: At 5 p.m., Arlington County had an estimated turnout of 4.4% for in-person voting on Election Day. Officials estimate a 8.3% total turnout once early voting and mail ballots are included.

Alexandria: At 4 p.m., Alexandria had an estimated 9.61% turnout, which includes early voting.

Falls Church: At 5 p.m., Falls Church had an estimated 5.5% turnout for in person voting on primary day. Combined with early voting, total turnout is estimated at around 12.5%.

What Virginia voters are talking about

Umar Salahuddin, who was casting a vote at George C. Marshall High School in District 8 on Tuesday afternoon, told WTOP’s Kristi King he was disappointed turnout at his polling place was so low.

“I think that the struggle we’re having is a lot of people want change. But change happens when you go to vote and you show up at the polls,” he said. “Not much turnout today … the polls are empty throughout the county.”

Ahmar Abbas, a member of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, spoke with WTOP’s Neal Augenstein at George C. Marshall High School.

“I think it’s important to participate in our democracy at all levels,” said Abbas. “To not just worry about the higher elections, but also really focus on the people that are actually doing the work at the local level.”

Some voters casting ballots in person today said they like having the option to vote early or with a mail-in ballot.

“We took advantage of early voting during the worst months of COVID,” Cynthia Vandekamp told WTOP. “So it’s awesome to have more than one option. Not everyone can come in person.”

District 7

In addition to District 8, there is also a closely watched race in District 7, which includes parts of Prince William, Stafford, Spotsylvania and Culpeper counties.

In that race, six Republicans — Bryce Reeves, Crystal Vanuch, David Ross, Derrick Anderson, Gina Ciarcia and Yesli Vega — ran for the chance to take on incumbent Democrat Abigail Spanberger in the fall.

District 2

Four Republicans — Tommy Altman, Andy Baan, Jarome Bell and Jennifer Kiggans — ran to take on Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria in the November’s general election.

Spanberger and Luria, who represents the 2nd District along the Eastern Shore and Virginia Beach, are considered to be among the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in Congress.

Throughout Virginia, polls opened at 6 a.m. on Tuesday and closed at 7 p.m. Voting sites also had drop boxes for sealed absentee ballots. Early voting began on May 6.

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein, Kristi King and Nick Iannelli are reporting the latest on the primaries live from the polls in Virginia and D.C.

Joshua Barlow

Joshua Barlow is a writer, composer, and producer who has worked for CGTN, Atlantic Public Media, and National Public Radio. He lives in Northeast Washington, D.C., where he pays attention to developments in his neighborhood, economic issues, and social justice.

Jessica Kronzer

Jessica Kronzer graduated from James Madison University in May 2021 after studying media and politics. She enjoys covering politics, advocacy and compelling human-interest stories.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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