Masks required at DC voting sites as officials push voting by mail

While officials are urging D.C. voters to cast mail-in ballots in the June 2 primary, there will be voting centers in all eight wards of the city. But, if you plan to vote in person on Election Day, you’ll need to wear a mask to cast your ballot.

That’s according to D.C. Board of Elections Chairman Michael Bennett, who discussed voting changes for the primary in light of the District’s response to the coronavirus during a news conference Thursday.

If you do plan to vote by mail, you should also know: The board of elections won’t automatically send you a ballot. You’ll have to request one.

So far, of about 460,000 registered voters, the board of elections has received 15,000 absentee ballot requests, Bennett said.

Here’s what you need to know about requesting an absentee ballot, voting in person and the key deadlines to keep in mind.

Voting by mail

First, if you need to register to vote or to make changes to your registration online, the deadline is May 12. You can also register to vote in person at any early voting center when they open May 22.

“But that said, because we’re really focused on making sure that you’re able to vote safely and that your vote be counted, please try to do everything by mail,” Bennett said.

To vote by mail, you’ll have to request your absentee ballot. There are a number of ways you can do this. You can request your ballot online, by email or through the Vote 4 DC smartphone app.

A word of caution about the app: It was designed to work with Apple devices, so if you use an Android device, you may encounter glitches.

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Also note, it could be several days before you receive a confirmation email once you complete your application, Bennett said. That could be because it’s getting stuck in your email provider’s spam filter.

As long as you don’t receive an error message during the application process, your application should be received. If you’re still worried about it, you can apply again, but the board will still only send you one absentee ballot.

In addition, the D.C. Board of Elections will start mailing a D.C. Voter Guide to every registered voter by May 1 that contains two absentee ballot applications with self-addressed envelopes and paid postage.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot is May 26.

The board plans to start mailing out ballots by May 5, Bennett said. Your absentee ballot must be postmarked by Election Day, June 2.

Remember to sign your ballot, otherwise it won’t be counted.

So, why not send every registered voter in the District an absentee ballot? Maryland, which will also run a mostly vote-by-mail primary June 2, plans to mail every registered voter an absentee ballot, under a plan by the state’s board of elections.

“It’s not as simple as it sounds,” Bennett told reporters.

Bennett said he consulted with other jurisdictions that run all-mail elections.

“Their recommendation was that it takes about two years to put processes in place in order to do just a straight vote by mail process,” Bennett said.

For example, what if Ward 4 ballots were mistakenly sent to the Ward 6 residents?

“There’s just no time to recover,” Bennett said. “The risk of a failed or challenged election was just too high.”

Regarding efforts to communicate voting changes to voters, Bennett said the board would be running TV and radio ads, and work with community groups to make sure the word gets out.

“It is tough changing voting habits, there’s no question about that,” Bennett said. “But we’re pushing really, really hard because this is most important that people stay safe during this time and it’s most important that their vote count.”

In-person voting

There will be 20 voting centers across D.C. that open May 22 and stay open through June 2. (The voting centers will be closed on Monday, May 25 for Memorial Day.)

There will be at least two voting locations in each ward, and some wards will have three.

Still, Bennett urged as many people as possible to vote by mail.

“I’d be really, really happy if, indeed, our vote centers were not full at all,” Bennett said.

You can vote in-person at any of the voting centers, not just the ones in your ward, Bennett said. However, the Board of Elections is asking voters to vote at particular times throughout the day based on their last name.

Bennett said the times are a suggestion only and that voters will not be turned away if they come outside their designated time.

In addition, if you plan to vote in-person at one of the centers, don’t forget your mask.

“We’ll be practicing social distancing, and you will not be able to enter unless you’re actually wearing a mask,” Bennett said.

The board also plans to secure hand sanitizer, masks, gloves and wipes for voting locations.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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