Today, the District of Columbia Board of Elections announced a significant effort to encourage District voters to use a mail-in ballot for the upcoming June 2 Primary Election and June 16 Ward 2 Special Election.
The initiative is intended to protect residents’ health and prevent the spread of COVID-19, while ensuring that eligible residents remain able to vote, a core facet of our democracy.
“District voters can already vote by mail thanks to our low-barrier, 'no excuse' absentee ballot process. We're taking a huge step forward to get a ballot into the mailbox of every District voter who asks for one while still maintaining some in-person Vote Centers. These are smart steps to protect the fundamental right to vote while adapting to unprecedented health and safety concerns,” said Councilmember Charles Allen, Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.
Vote-by-Mail: Current District law allows DC voters to request a mail ballot for any reason (traditionally called our “no-excuse absentee ballot”) by visiting the Board of Elections' website or using the Vote4DC mobile application. This process is functionally a Vote-by-Mail system already in place, but the Board has never pushed this option as such.
Ballots are delivered by postal mail on a rolling basis after requests are received, and voters can return ballots by postal mail using prepaid envelopes included with the ballots. Voters are able to track the status of their mail ballots on the Board's website, and if a ballot were to somehow be lost, a replacement ballot can be requested. Mail ballots can be mailed in any time before the election, can be dropped off at one of the Voting Centers, and will be counted if they are postmarked by Election Day and are received in the Board's office no later than seven days after the election. The Board has hired a public relations firm to create an aggressive campaign to educate voters about this expanded vote-by-mail process and urge voters to take advantage.
Voting Centers: In recent weeks, due to public health concerns, the Board has been contacted by a large number of their poll workers that are dropping out of their traditional role due to health concerns. In addition, the closures and lost training time hampers their ability to get all needed poll workers fully trained on their current schedule. Recognizing this, and the need to reduce in-person risk of transmission, the Board will not operate the usual 144 Election Day polling places requiring 3,000+ poll workers, but instead, will operate 20 fully-accessible “Vote Centers” for the Primary Election (at least two in each Ward) and two Vote Centers for the Ward 2 Special Election. These Vote Centers will be open for in-person early voting and voting on Election Day (as well as same-day registration). Voters may cast their ballot at any Vote Center (even on Election Day) regardless of which ward in which they reside. Voters may also drop off vote-by-mail ballots at the Centers. At each Vote Center, the Board will employ directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and will encourage voters to vote on a staggered schedule based on last name (known as “alpha voting”) in order to maintain social distancing standards.
The Vote Centers will be open from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. from May 22 through June 2 for the Primary Election, and from June 12 through June 16 for the Ward 2 Special Election. Ward 2 voters would be able to drop their special election vote-by-mail ballots at voting centers at the same time as their June 2nd ballot if they so wish.