Amina McWhirter knew she wanted to vote in the general election because of her concern about the country’s direction but she felt uneasy about mailing in her ballot or putting it in one of the 55 drop boxes throughout the District.
McWhirter, a resident of the Fairlawn neighborhood in Ward 8, decided she would go to one of the early voting centers in the ward and on Oct. 27, she showed up at the Entertainment & Sports Arena (ESA), at 6:25 a.m. to be sure she could vote and then leave as soon as possible. However, when McWhirter arrived at the facility, she expressed shock at her position in line.
“I decided to get up real early this morning to vote because this is a very important election for our city and our country,” she said. “I didn’t expect to be first in line, though.”
Many residents like McWhirter took advantage of the 32 early voting centers throughout the District to cast ballots for contests ranging from U.S. president to advisory neighborhood commissioners as well as Initiative 81 which makes possession of illegal magic mushrooms a lower law enforcement priority.
The D.C. Board of Elections could not provide hard numbers on who voted on Oct. 27 by Informer press time but Nick Jacobs, the agency’s public information officer, said a high turnout occurred in the morning and slowed down by afternoon.
The centers operate from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. until Nov. 2. On Nov. 3 — Election Day — there will be 95 voting centers that will operate from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voters can vote at any center regardless of where they live.
McWhirter said she could have gone to a closer center, such as the one located at Anacostia High School, but opted for the ESA.
“I came here because of COVID-19 and I wanted to avoid catching that,” she said. “This is a larger facility and I think I am better protected here.”
Before it opened, the line to get into the ESA almost reached Alabama Avenue, S.E. in accordance to social distancing. However, when D.C. Board of Election officials opened the doors to ESA’s entrance the line moved swiftly. Marcellus Walker, a resident of Ward 4, decided to vote at the ESA “because it is close to my job.”
“I think it is a good idea to open up the voting centers for anyone who lives anywhere in the city,” Walker said. “This is more convenient for me rather than waiting in line at the Emery Heights Community Center and then have to hurry to get to work on time.”
Later in the morning, Lisa Taylor came to the ESA she said because she got tired of waiting in the “long line” at the Malcolm X Community Center.
“They are moving too slow for me,” she said. “I need to vote and get it over with.”
The Malcolm X Community Center’s line reached around the basketball court with voters practicing social distancing. Cali Artis, a Ward 7 resident, came to Malcolm X to vote and didn’t seem discouraged by the slow-moving line.
“The long line is OK with me,” she said. “It’s moving. I want to vote and get it over with so I will stay here.”
In Artis’ home ward, Shoa Samad expressed excitement after voting for the first time. The Benning neighborhood resident said coming to cast a ballot at Deanwood Community Center meant a lot to her.
“Voting means that I have a voice in my community, and I can make a difference,” she said. “I decided to come in person to vote instead of mailing in a ballot. When I was younger, I would come with my Dad to the polls to vote and I wanted to be involved in the whole experience of doing that.”
Deanwood neighborhood resident Shamika Bacchus said voting has become a family tradition, noting her maternal grandfather served as a president of the Memphis NAACP and her mother was heavily involved in helping people to register to vote. Bacchus complimented the elections board staff for “the cleanliness of the facility and efficiency in which people could come in, vote and leave within 15 minutes.”
While few voters revealed whom they cast their ballots for, Walker said he voted for Janeese Lewis George for Ward 4 D.C. Council member “because she beat [Council member] Brandon Todd” and Bacchus said she marked her ballot in the D.C. council member at-large races for incumbent Robert White (D) and candidate Jeanne Lewis. However, Gloria Starks, a Congress Heights resident who voted at the ESA, made it clear why she voted early.
“I feel strongly about voting and I want to get Trump out of there,” she said.