What happens if they hold an election and nobody votes?

This occurred to me Tuesday afternoon as I visited Precinct 143, in the Chinese Community Church at Fifth and I St. NW. Poll workers outnumbered voters 6-1. The polls had been open for nine hours. The electronic machines showed 75 had cast ballots.

"Hopefully," said one poll worker, "we'll get a rush after work. We're ready to roll!"

I rolled from one corner of the nation's capital city to the other on voting day. And from Anacostia to Fort Dupont, and Eckington to Chevy Chase, only the committed voters showed.

When I realized that few people cared about this special election -- to choose an at-large council member and vote on a ballot issue -- I decided to make the most of it and conduct my own poll. These stalwart voters who bothered to show clearly care about D.C. politics, and they pay attention to local news. Who among them would vote for Mayor Vince Gray if he were to run for re-election?

Consider this poll anecdotal and unscientific. I simply asked 30 voters a simple question: If Vince Gray were on the ballot today running for mayor, would you vote for him?

"NO!" said Jeanmarie Neal. She and her husband had just voted in Precinct 85, in the bowels of the Specialty Hospital on Capitol Hill. "I expect him to be indicted."

Neal was referring to the unfortunate federal investigation into Gray's 2010 mayoral campaign. Three of his aides have pleaded guilty to federal charges. The source and handling of $650,000 in "shadow" campaign cash are in question. Plenty of voters expect Gray to take the fall.

"He has to take care of a few things," an African-American man told me outside Benning Library, Precinct 102. "He has a blight on his credibility. But as mayor he's done well."

Not one of the white voters said they would vote for Gray. "Anybody but Gray," came from two of them. "Too corrupt," said a fellow who had voted in Lafayette Elementary, Precinct 51.

The real problem for the mayor is that he got no love from the African-Americans, either. They were noncommittal. Not one voter looked me in the eye and said: "Vince Gray is my man."

In my random poll of 30 voters, 18 said they would not vote for Gray. Six said they might be with him. Six couldn't say.

My random survey tracks closely with a recent private poll. It showed Gray's disapproval rating at 49 percent, against an approval rating of 42 percent. Asked if the Democratic primary were held today, would they vote for Gray, only 18 percent went for the mayor. A whopping 29 percent said they were undecided.

Vince Gray has behaved like a man who has decided to run. But from my survey and professional polls, his base is soft, at best. He's very beatable -- and in a mayoral election, people might actually show up to vote.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonian.com.