The onset of the coronavirus in the District has changed the way the D.C. Board of Elections will administer the June 2 primary and the June 16 Ward 2 special election and the manner in which the candidates are campaigning.
On March 27, the board announced an effort to encourage District voters to use a mail-in ballot for the upcoming contests as a result of the virus.
“As an independent agency, the D.C. Board of Elections is charged with ensuring every voter is safe and that every vote is counted,” said Michael Bennett, chairman of the board. “[The board] is fully equipped to absorb the challenges COVID-19 poses to the voting procedure and has streamlined the process for citizens to cast their ballots by mail.”
Bennett said voters can request their ballot online by going to the board website, calling or sending a fax to the agency, downloading the app and by visiting the office. He said mail-in ballots will allow voters to practice physical distancing and give them more time to vote.
Bennett said early voting will start on May 22 and will take place at One Judiciary Square, in addition to the early voting sites.
The board changes are taking place as candidates for one of the two at-large council seats as well as the Wards 2, 4, 7 and 8 positions will seek the nominations of their parties. Absalom Jordan, campaign manager for the reelection bid of D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8), told The Informer that his candidate has focused recent activities on taking care of his constituents.
“The councilmember is working to deliver meals and supplies to senior citizens and those in need,” Jordan said. “We are not canvassing. We are however reaching out to volunteers and staff online for the campaign.”
Mike Austin, one of White’s opponents, in a statement said “in light of this unprecedented pandemic, I encourage Ward 8 voters to remain safe first and foremost, but to exercise their civic duty to vote in this crucial election.”
Ward 8 candidates Stuart Anderson, Fred Hill and Rebecca Morris said they have resorted to using online and social media tools to carry on their campaigns.
“We are holding virtual meetings and using virtual platforms to stay connected to the community,” Anderson said. “At some point, we will be phone banking, too.”
In Ward 7, Anthony Lorenzo Green, who is challenging Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), said he uses digital organizing to campaign.
“We are working to get to as many people as possible through digital, virtual and online platforms,” he said.
Council member Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4) said his focus has been on helping Ward 4 residents, especially senior citizens, parents and other impacted populations. Nevertheless, he said his campaign for a second term on the council continues.
“We are taking this public health crisis seriously, but our ward-wide campaign volunteer team has been doing this virtual constituent outreach by phone and email to get our positive message to the voters,” Todd said.
One of Todd’s opponents, Janeese Lewis George, has been campaigning in a different mode too, according to her campaign manager Michelle Whittaker.
“We are working to connect residents to services and support,” Whittaker said. “We are telling residents to check the city’s coronavirus and unemployment web sites if they information and assistance. But we are also reaching out to voters.
“There is no door-to-door knocking. We are having online meetings and using tools such as Zoom. This is a new environment for everyone but we still have an election to win.”