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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Election Changes During COVID-19

After a June 2 primary election that was plagued by problems with absentee ballots and long lines for in-person voting, the District Board of Elections (DCBOE) has made many changes to mitigate problems and avoid delays for the upcoming Nov. 3 general election.

Here is a guide to what’s changed and what matters as we head to the polls again.

Who Can Vote
To vote in DC, you must be a US citizen, at least 17 years of age, have been a District resident for at least 30 days prior to the election and not been found legally incompetent to vote by a court.

Emergency police reform legislation passed by the DC Council on July 7 restored voting rights to District residents currently incarcerated for felony crimes. Those incarcerated for misdemeanors and returning citizens have the right already. DCBOE has mailed ballots to DC residents held at DC Jail and in federal prisons nationwide.

Registering to Vote
You can register to vote by mail, by email or online. Download voter registration forms at https://www.dcboe.org/Voters/Register-To-Vote/Register-to-Vote or pick them up at the DC Board of Elections (1015 Half St. SE), open public libraries, Metropolitan Police Department precincts or fire stations.

To register, fill in the form either in hard copy or digitally, completing fields 1 to 13, and send it to DCBOE by email or USPS.

You don’t have to print the form or sign it if you have a valid DC Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)-issued ID and you consent to use the digital signature that the DMV has on file for you. Just save it and send it as an email attachment to the address below, with the ID number in your email.

If you do not have a DMV ID or do not want to use your signature on file, you must sign a printed form. You can send it postage prepaid by USPS, or take a picture with your smartphone and send it via email.

Submit voter registration to the DC Board of Elections:

  • Via mail or in person: 1015 Half St. SE,Suite 750, Washington, DC 20003
  • By email (with form attached) to DCRegistrations@dcboe.org
  • By faxing to 202-347-2648

Registration must be received online or via mail by Oct. 13.

Same-day registration is available if you vote in person at a voting center for early voting or on election day Nov. 3. You must present proof of District residency. Forms of accepted proof include:

  • A DC DMV-issued ID (because of COVID-19 closures, this ID can be valid or expired as of March 13)
  • Another valid District or federally issued ID
  • Student housing statement/tuition bill
  • Homeless shelter occupancy statement
  • Lease
  • Federal or District-issued government document with your name and address
  • Government check or paycheck
  • Bank statement
  • Current utility bill (electricity, water, gas, phone, internet).

Bill or statement dates must be within 90 days of Election Day. The address on the document must match the residence address listed on your registration application. First-time voters will be asked for three of these documents.

Voting by Mail
Unlike the primary, for the general election all registered voters will be mailed a ballot, which should be received starting the first week of October. DCBOE has outsourced mailing to K&H Integrated Print Solutions, a firm that also handles the ballots for 20 million other voters, including distribution of 5.5 million mail-in ballots in Los Angeles County.

If you don’t receive a ballot by Oct. 21, DCBOE says you should prepare to vote in person. You can check your mail-in ballot by visiting www.dcboe.org.

K&H uses intelligent mail barcode technology to track ballots from shipment to receipt by DCBOE, from the voter through USPS, so that both voters and DCBOE can see where the ballot is and whether it has been received. Ballot tracking and in-person voting are integrated with the DCBOE voter registration (VR) system, which “credits” a voter’s profile with returning a ballot or with in-person voting.

Suppose you get nervous that your mail-in ballot has not been counted and go vote early in person. Your profile will then be “credited” with a vote in the VR. If DCBOE receives your mail-in ballot a few days later, it will be scanned and rejected by the system. The system prevents voter fraud. Once a profile is credited, a vote from that individual will not be counted again, no matter in what format it is submitted.

Voting twice is obviously illegal, with penalties of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Ballots submitted by USPS must be postmarked by Nov. 3.  Mail-in ballots can also be submitted at voting centers without waiting in line. In addition, DCBOE has installed 55 special drop-off boxes throughout the District (see accompanying lists). Ballots must be deposited by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.

Voting in Person
Anyone can vote early; that is still true during the pandemic. The change is that you must wear a face mask and practice social distancing.

Early voting takes place from Oct. 27 to Nov. 2, at 32 early voting centers located across the city. Four are located in each ward and include “super voting centers” at Capital One Arena (601 F St. NW) and Nationals Park (1500 S. Capitol St. SE). Early voting sites will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

96 vote centers (including the 32 early voting centers) will be open on Election Day, Nov. 3, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Unlike a normal election, you can vote at any one of the voting centers, both for early voting or on Election Day, regardless of where you live or the polling place to which you would be assigned in non-COVID-19 times.

Although this is an expansion in the number of polling places from the June 2 primary election, when only 20 polling places were open (normally there are 144 voting centers), District officials say that voters can still expect to wait in long lines due to additional cleaning procedures and social distancing. DCBOE Executive Director Alice Miller told the DC Council that as many as 150,000 voters may elect to vote in person.

“I’m going to say it again. There will be lines,” Miller declared. “No matter how many vote centers are open, there will be lines.”

However, as long as you are in line by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3, you will be allowed to vote.

Changes to Technology
Following the June 2 primary, DCBOE dropped the Vote4DC mobile app, citing a high fail rate. DCBOE’s Miller told a Sept. 10 DC Council public oversight hearing that the board had also upped the call-center capacity and expanded the access points to the VR system to allow for the expected increase in processing voter registration applications and absentee ballots.

DCBOE is processing mail-in ballots as they are received, but they will not release results until after the polls are closed on Election Day. Tallies released Nov. 3 will include mail ballots received prior to Election Day, in-person votes and early voting.

Results are expected to be published on the dcboe.org website on election night and updated daily after Nov. 3. But DCBOE said that final counts could take as long as Nov. 13, since the city will wait 10 days to receive mail-in ballots and will count them as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3.

Learn more or get assistance by visiting www.dcboe.org, calling 202-727-2525 or 202-741-5283, or by visiting 1015 Half St. SE, Suite 750, between 8:15 a.m. and 4:45 p.m., Monday to Friday.

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