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AU ANC’s one-vote tie raises concerns over lack of student engagement in local politics

Numerous barriers limit students from voting and running for office in DC

As the elected officials for American University’s two on-campus Advisory Neighborhood Commission districts, School of Public Affairs freshman Diego Carney and College of Arts and Sciences sophomore Rohin Ghosh have spent the last three months advocating on neighborhood issues that affect students. 

But for Carney, none of his constituents actually elected him. The lack of voter turnout from AU students in D.C. during the fall 2022 elections led to a one-vote tie between Carney and Micah Rogers, a freshman in SPA, for one of two ANC spots on campus. To break the tie, the rare D.C. drawing of lots law was brought out of hiding, in which Carney came out the victor through a coin flip. 

The other spot went to Ghosh, who received less than 14 votes. This low number brings up questions of why students did not engage in this race and by extension in local D.C. politics, especially since AU is considered to be a highly political student body. 

What are ANCs?

Each ANC commissioner represents a single-member district as a part of their neighborhood in nonpartisan, unpaid elected positions throughout the district. They are the voice of the neighborhood to the local government and serve two-year terms. There are currently 46 ANC districts, and each district is divided into smaller SMDs that are made up of around 2,000 people.

While ANCs don’t have legislative power, they can present resolutions on issues such as zoning, and they work closely with other elected officials who do have the power to pass laws. AU is part of the 3E district, which includes Tenleytown and Friendship Heights. 

The districts are redrawn every 10 years, and in 2022, AU was given a second ANC spot after only having one in the past. Carney represents district 3E07 and Ghosh represents 3E08. They are two of almost 350 commissioners throughout the district. 

D.C. Drawing of Lots Law

Section 1–1001.10(c) of D.C. law states that in the case of a tie vote, the candidates will cast lots at high noon on a date chosen by the Board of Elections. The drawing of lots can take many forms, such as a coin flip, hat draw or rock paper scissors. The method is chosen by the BOE. 

After the Nov. 8 midterm elections, Carney and Rogers came out with one write-in vote each — their own. On Dec. 12, they appeared before the Board on Zoom. 

“They asked me if I wanted heads or tails. I said I wanted heads. It ended up being heads,” Carney said. “I hadn’t felt that much happiness since I got into AU.”

In 2022, a second ANC tie in district 6E02 occurred. Before then, ties for an ANC race in 2020 and 2014 led to the drawing of lots. 

AU students’ relationship with local politics

Christian Damiana, an alumnus of SPA, was the previous ANC commissioner for AU’s campus and graduated in spring 2022. At the time, he was the youngest elected official in D.C. He spent his term focusing on transportation safety, affordable housing, democracy and administrative governance. 

Last year, Damiana advocated for a second student seat in the ANC. Each SMD is supposed to hold around 2,000 constituents, but Damiana was representing at least 3,000. He said that the reason for this is when the district was redrawn back in 2011, the redistricting committee “essentially gerrymandered it to dilute student voices.”

The Ward 3 Redistricting Task Force redrew the districts again in 2022 and gave AU a second seat with encouragement and support from Damiana. 

However, the competition for the seats were sparse. Ghosh ran uncontested as a write-in and received 12 votes.

Damiana said the reason for this was not because the number of seats was expanded, but for a myriad of other systemic reasons that link to disenfranchising students. 

“Lots of folks said … you created two single-member districts instead of one, and then there was essentially no competition for those seats,” Damiana said. “But that’s not because we expanded the number of seats.”

Damiana cited numerous ways how both voting in D.C. and running for office can be inaccessible to students. For a candidate to appear on the ballot, they have to collect petition signatures on paper during the summer, when most students aren’t on campus. 

Additionally, students need to provide documentation that they live on campus to register to vote and to run for office. Getting that documentation from the Department of Housing & Residence Life can be difficult and inconvenient, according to Damiana. 

“The entire system is built to disenfranchise students and prevent them from running for office,” Damiana said.

There was also at least one ballot mixup: Carney said when he went to vote, he received a ballot for the campus’ other single-member district and had to request a special ballot in order to vote for his race. 

Board of Elections Spokesperson Nick Jacobs said they were not aware that anyone received the wrong ballot. 

Damiana said another issue is that AU does not do a good enough job of promoting local government to students. 

“Students are not aware of the work the district government is doing or how it impacts them,” he said. “Too much of AU’s education is exclusively focused on what’s happening on Capitol Hill and not what’s happening in our neighborhoods.”

According to Carney, a lot of liberal students choose to vote in their home states that are not as blue as D.C. 

“I did try to campaign with my friends, but a lot of my friends are from either swing states like Pennsylvania or from southern states like Florida or Texas, and so they did not feel comfortable voting for either me or in the district because their home states were a little more important politically,” he said. 

Ghosh said he hopes for a greater effort from the AU community of encouraging students to register to vote in D.C. 

“Students ride WMATA transit that is affected by D.C. policy. They are paying D.C. sales taxes. If they work a job here, they’re covered by D.C. labor laws. If they live off campus, they’re paying D.C. rents,” he said. “D.C. issues really do affect people here. This is where most of us live for at least seven months out of the year.” 

All of these issues compound into a lack of interest in local ANC elections. However, Damiana still considers the redistricting a win for student voices. 

“We facilitated the possibility of future democratic involvement by expanding the number of single-member districts that AU students can run in,” he said. 

This article was edited by Gabe Castro-Root, Jordan Young and Nina Heller. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis, Leta Lattin, Luna Jinks, Sarah Clayton and Stella Guzik. 

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