In November 2021, I announced I was running as a Democrat for the At-Large DC Council seat, in Washington, DC. Six months later I was unceremoniously kicked off the ballot by an opponent who successfully challenged my petitions. This tactic is commonly employed by candidates to thin the ranks thereby increasing their electability.
Essentially, my opponent used the petition process to bar me from public office. Perhaps, I am naïve, but I always thought the choice of who best to serve District citizens lay in the hands of its voters.
In DC, council candidates for At-Large seats are required to collect 2,000 signatures from registered voters to qualify them for appearance on the ballot. I collected 2,049 signatures. A novice for citywide public office, I was unaware that this razor thin number put my candidacy in jeopardy. Opponents challenged the validity of the signatures on my petitions alleging missing dates, incomplete forms, illegible or unauthentic signatures and in some the concerns were manufactured completely out of whole cloth. A sufficient number were called in question for the DC Board of Elections to summon me for a mediation.
After a failed attempt at mediation, I subsequently appeared in court to defend my petitions. I was consumed by anxiety. I was not worried about meeting the required number of signatures. I had neighbors and supporters rooting for me. Donations were flowing in daily. Rather, I feared the judicial system was about to fail me.
I spent days securing affidavits from challenged signatories and assisting voters in updating their addresses. I came with 64 pieces of evidence. However, as a preschool teacher and mother of two, I did not have the resources to pay an attorney. Neither did the Board provide one gratis. In the end, a loaded docket and over extended Board ruled against me despite my best efforts. I was barred from the ballot giving DC voters no chance to decide on my merits as a candidate.
Had I received court-appointed legal aid, matters might have ended differently. A modernized petition system might also have permitted my petitioners to correct their voting credentials and sign their names electronically, preventing confusion.
No one gave me a blueprint on running for District office that would guided me around the perils of petitions. I still do not have one. However, I do possess grit, courage, genius and a sincere avocation to improve our city. I will do this even in the absence of an official title.
The election petition process should not be weaponized. The Board of Elections must do a better job adjudicating petitions, create an electronic alternative to paper or simply dispense with the qualification entirely.
I hope to be the last Black Woman removed from the ballot by an antiquated, cumbersome, weaponized petition qualification.
Leniqua’dominique Jenkins holds a Bachelor’s in Political Science from the University of Houston. She worked on Capitol Hill and in Africa, India and Spain. Currently, she serves a preschool teacher at a language submersion school in Ward 7.