Democrat Takis Karantonis Sweeps Special Arlington County Board Election in Abbreviated Campaign that Drove Absentee Voting Because of Coronavirus Pandemic
More than 8,000 Voters Cast Absentee Mail-In Ballots
Tuesday, July 7, 2020, ARLINGTON, Va.—Economist, urban planner and nonprofit leader Takis Karantonis decisively clinched victory in a special election for the County Board seat left open by the sudden April death of Erik Gutshall, in a race in which voters were encouraged to absentee vote by-mail to minimize public health risks related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With 100% of precincts and absentee ballots reporting, Karantonis captured 62% of the vote.
“Arlington voters responded overwhelmingly to Takis’ positive, issues-oriented campaign, surmounting the unprecedented challenges posed by the coronavirus to elect an experienced leader to the County Board,” Arlington Democrats Chair Jill Caiazzo said. “Takis will be a leader for all Arlingtonians. He has the expertise and empathy to build on the impressive legacy of Erik Gutshall. We know he’ll serve Arlington well.”
During the campaign, Karantonis touted his status as an immigrant as a reason he’ll be particularly effective during these fraught times for the country. He has been a resident of Arlington for 14 years, currently living with his wife in the Arlington Village neighborhood.
“As an immigrant and a first-time candidate, I did not expect to receive the overwhelming amount of support from Arlingtonians throughout every zip code in our county,” Karantonis said shortly after the election was called. “Our victory is meaningful for two specific reasons: it is the recognition of my many years of civic engagement in Arlington and it serves as a testament to Arlington voters' expectation of true progressive policies and effective leadership.”
Karantonis previously served as executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, and now directs micro-lending for the Ethiopian Community Development Council, an Arlington-based nonprofit. He serves as vice chair of the Alliance for Housing Solutions, and previously was president of the Columbia Heights Civic Association and board chair of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment (now known as EcoAction Arlington). A native of Greece, Karantonis lived and worked in several European countries before immigrating to the United States. He speaks eight languages.
Karantonis was endorsed by scores of community leaders, elected officials, progressive organizations, and advocacy groups. The breadth of that support was demonstrated in Karantonis’ commanding victory over Republican Bob Cambridge and independent Susan Cunningham to serve the remaining 18 months of Gutshall's term.
The final results were:
|Takis P. Karantonis||12,399||62.41%|
|Susan R. Cunningham||6,467||32.55%|
Impressive Number of Absentee Mail-In Ballots Requested, Cast
Recognizing the public health benefits of voting by mail, Arlington Democrats led an effort that prompted Arlington voters to request 15,341 absentee ballots in this County Board special election. Of that total, 82% listed “disability or illness” as the reason for voting absentee, which was the justification voters were instructed to provide if they were seeking to avoid possible exposure to the coronavirus at polling stations. Of that number, more than 8,000 were returned by mail and 750 were cast in person. The resulting ballot return rate of 58% is an increase over the 2019 general election return rate of 43%, but lower than the return rate of just under 74% experienced in the Arlington Democrats’ 2020 School Board Caucus that concluded last month. Although information on the absentee request and return rate for other special elections is not available, the 2019 general election saw only 3,618 absentee by-mail ballots requested, of which 1,570 were returned. This marked increase in absentee by-mail voting was one of several extraordinary features of a special election called during a global pandemic.
Arlington Democrats and Democratic elected officials at the county and state levels made several appeals—ranging from an online public petition and open letters to an emergency petition to the Virginia Supreme Court—imploring justices to extend the election date, to allow political parties the time to conduct inclusive candidate selection processes while also minimizing virus-related health risks during the pandemic. The court, however, refused, forcing both major parties to conduct closed nomination contests decided by their respective party leadership in order to meet the unreasonable 14-day nomination deadline set by statute.
Arlington Democrats Deployed Formidable GOTV Effort Transformed for the Pandemic
Complementing the efforts of the Karantonis campaign, Arlington Democrats unleashed its extraordinary get-out-the-vote apparatus to appeal to tens of thousands of voters during the abbreviated campaign timeline and to educate them about their right to vote absentee by mail to reduce their chances of contracting the virus at busy polling places.
Those efforts included making more than 50,000 voter contacts via phone- and text-banking and, for the first time, supplying witnesses to support socially distanced voters who requested absentee ballots, including senior voters. Arlington Democrats also deployed its network of more than 200 precinct captains and building ambassadors to educate and encourage voters throughout all 54 Arlington voting precincts. This work was reinforced by 13 virtual candidate events and a sustained social media and digital advertising campaign, as well as a strong parallel effort by the Arlington Young Democrats.
“Arlington Democrats have learned a great deal about campaigning and supporting voters in the midst of a public health crisis,” said Carol Fontein, chair of precinct operations for Arlington Democrats. “We’re ready for November, when we’ll restore competence, honesty and compassion to the White House and return capable and caring Democrats to represent Arlington in Congress, and on the County and School boards.”