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Arlington Democrats aim to ramp up voter turnout in November

Party aims to target So. Arlington in quest to reach 80% countywide

The Arlington County Democratic Committee is aiming for a turnout of 80 percent of the county’s active voters in November. And the route to getting there may run through South Arlington.

Sarah Lanford, who heads up the party’s precinct operations, has acknowledged that Democrats have some bridge-building to do in the southern half of the county. That may be especially true among African-American and Latino residents, who tend to be less engaged with the party.

Those tensions were on display at the Feb. 7 meeting of the Democratic Committee, where there were some catcalls from the audience complaining that the party’s School Board caucus efforts might disenfranchise lower-income and minority voters.

Democratic leaders said that was not the intent, but there was an acknowledgment that the party needs to further improve outreach.

“It’s on us to meet voters where they are,” Lanford said at the meeting, laying out plans to recruit volunteers who will do that outreach in targeted areas.

While the results of the upcoming Democratic presidential primary on March 5 already feel like a foregone conclusion, Democrats plan to have poll-greeters at each of Arlington’s 54 precincts from 7 to 10 a.m. and again from 4 to 7 p.m.

Unlike a general election, the goal is not to sway the electorate in the three-candidate Democratic primary; despite the expectation of a President Biden victory, the committee is officially neutral. Instead, Lanford said, it offers “fertile ground” for getting voters engaged with the Democratic Committee.

Similar efforts will be undertaken in June, when Democrats select a nominee for County Board in a state-run primary.

Getting to an 80-percent turnout will require the county’s dominant political party to return to a pre-COVID level of personal engagement, “knocking on doors and [being] on the phone,” party chair Steve Baker said.

“We want to turn out every last voter,” he said.

Achieving a huge turnout is unlikely to change the political dynamics within Arlington, where the Democratic sample ballot is taken as gospel by most. But if the U.S. Senate race (to feature incumbent Democrat Tim Kaine and a Republican to be selected later) is closer than what many expect, those extra votes from Arlington could indeed play a seminal role.

As part of its efforts, the Arlington County Democratic Committee on Feb. 7 elected more than a dozen precinct captains, helping to fill out its ranks of two or three for each of Arlington’s 54 precincts.

The vote to approve them was unanimous. (“Opposed? I dare you!” Lanford joked.)

Reaching an 80-percent turnout is within the realm of possibility. In 2020, Arlington fell just shy at 79 percent (albeit with an all-time high of 131,000-plus voters turning out). According to county election data dating to 1958, the highest turnouts on record, not surprisingly, all came in presidential-election years: 85 percent in 1992 and 2012 and 84 percent in 1960.