With less than 50 days left until one of the most consequential elections in the nation’s history, some public officials at the local and state level continue to make strides in ensuring that voters can vote easily and in a variety of ways, not only on Election Day, but in the days leading up to Nov. 3.
For decades-long voter and District resident Lydia Curtis, not even mail-in ballots and the launch of a voter supercenter in Capital One Arena, will suffice if she and other voters haven’t outlined the steps they’ll take to circumvent long waits at the polls that discouraged primary voters months earlier.
“Everyone should have a voting plan. It’s very empowering. I learned that during the last election cycle and the one before that,” said Curtis, an activist who has been involved in voter mobilization efforts, particularly among the homeless population, for nearly five years.
Curtis and her husband were among several June 2 primary voters who filled in an absentee ballot.
That’s when, she recounted, learning about what would be the D.C. Board of Elections’ (DCBOE) eventual pivot to mailing absentee ballots to all registered voters and encouraging early voting. “D.C. is one of the jurisdictions where voters will get their ballots in the mail,” said Curtis.
“When I get mine and I fill it out, I won’t mail it in. I will walk it in. I encourage people to vote early in person, and to not mail it in, just to be on the safe side. Definitely don’t wait to vote on Election Day. Vote early.”
The District’s voter registration deadline is Oct. 13 and early in-person voting starts on Oct. 27.
DCBOE officials said that voters will receive mail-in ballots, each one bearing a unique identifier and “I voted!” sticker, in three waves throughout late September and much of October. Given the apprehension about a U.S. Postal Service backlog, voters have been encouraged to postmark mail-in ballots by Oct. 21.
On June 3, DCBOE opened 20 polling stations — a far cry from the more than 140 locations regularly available to voters citywide — while encouraging early and mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic. On that day, Councilmembers Vincent C. Gray and Trayon White, representing Wards 7 and 8 respectively, thwarted Democratic primary challenges to their seat, while Councilmember Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4) lost to Janeese Lewis George, an attorney and self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist.
However, much to the chagrin of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and other elected officials who received complaints from constituents, DCBOE fulfilled less than 60 percent of the more than 90,000 requests for mail-in ballots during the primary. For some people, reports of waits in line at polling stations going well beyond the District’s 7 p.m. COVID-19-related curfew have called into question whether all voters were allowed equal opportunity to cast their ballot.
That’s why DCBOE’s Vote Safe campaign, launched last week with the unveiling of the voting super center at Capital One Arena in Gallery Place, has become a way to instill voter confidence in the electoral process and curb the spread of COVID-19 during the general election.
This campaign not only facilitates the distribution of mail-in ballots to registered voters’ homes, but the launch of more than 30 early voting stations and 90 additional stations on Election Day.
“We’re expecting record-shattering turnout for this election. That’s why we’re starting on Oct. 27,” election board chair Michael Bennett said Sept. 10 at Capital One Arena while announcing the DCBOE-Monumental Sports & Entertainment collaboration.
“One of the things that’s cool about a Super Vote Center is that we can process multiple people at a time,” Bennett added. Nationals Park has since been announced as another super voting center site.
“There are no processing issues. There are chances to be inside. Things will move very quickly. We want people to use the Super Vote Centers and the ballots you get in the mail.”
Over the last few months, the election board’s voter outreach strategy has included a media blitz and virtual voter registration events that have attracted a bevy of first-time voters. The agency has also worked closely with the Office of the Chief Technology to enhance tracking of mail-in ballots, enhancement of online voter registration, and extension of a call center.
Through its recruitment efforts, DCBOE has also been able to attract more than 200 poll worker applications per day. By press time, the agency has recruited 4,000 poll workers, many of whom are young people. More than half have also received training, while Bowser has pledged 2,000 District employees to join those forces.
During a recent D.C. Council oversight hearing, DCBOE Director Alice Miller answered questions about the election process, including the timeline for dissemination of mail-in ballots and the list of contractors involved.
During the more-than-two-hour virtual hearing, some members of the D.C. Council Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety expressed their misgivings about DCBOE’s continuation of its relationship with vendors they said had fallen short during the primaries.
“Our voters want to know the status of their ballots. What if there’s something janky with the website platform?” D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I- At large) said Sept. 10 while asking Miller questions about how DCBOE assesses the performance of its contractors.
“This is one of the key transparency issues for us. Obviously, you have an issue about the mailer. Is the board going to check the ballot [the contractor] is mailing out?”