News & Politics

Here’s How DC Wound Up With an Upside Down Flag on the Voter Guides

The Board of Elections tried to pass it off as an intentional gag. That's not true, and we've got the e-mail to prove it.

Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

When District residents noticed the Board of Elections had sent out voter information guides with the DC flag printed upside down on the cover, the agency tried to laugh it off as an intentional gag designed to draw attention to its website, where people could point out the glaring error. The supposed idea was that two bars on top of three stars—instead of the other, correct way around—would remind voters of the April 1 primary’s pathetically low 27 percent turnout rate.

Many people were skeptical of that intial response, including Council member Kenyan McDuffie, who runs the Committee on Government Operations.

“This is yet another example of the type of glaring mistakes that continues to occur,” he said in a statement released by his office Thursday afternoon. “This mistake, in addition to the concerns raised during Committee oversight hearings, undermines the public’s confidence in the Board’s ability to administer elections.”

Turns out, McDuffie—and everyone else—was right: the upside-down flag wasn’t some clever game, just a groan-inducing, bureaucratic boner. McDuffie’s legislative counsel, Barbara Mack, e-mailed the elections board Thursday morning to inquire about the flag.

“No, this is an error; checked with printer, not enough paper in stock or time to redo cover… we will message to voters that content is correct- graphic is wrong,” the agency’s director, Cliff Tatum, wrote back in an e-mail obtained by Washingtonian.

According to elections board spokeswoman Denise Tolliver, if the upside-down flag was intended as a sly poke at measly voter participation, it was a private joke by the employee who laid out the voter guide.

“A staffer thought it was cute,” Tolliver says. “Once [Tatum] caught it, he said ‘I’m not sure I like it.'”

Unfortunately for the Board of Elections and the District’s sense of dignity, Tatum made his criticism after the guides went to the printer. Tolliver says the staffer who inverted the flag is still with the agency. In any event, the board may want to pick up a copy of this book for future reference.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.