An early voting supercenter may be set up east of the Anacostia River in D.C.
The move comes after Events DC, the District’s convention and sports authority, gave the city the go-ahead to use the Entertainment and Sports Arena for early voting in Ward 8’s Congress Heights neighborhood. The arena is where the Mystics play.
In all, the D.C. Board of Elections has 95 different polling places, but until the reversal from Events DC, all five early voting supercenters were west of the Anacostia River, which includes five super vote centers: Capital One Arena, Nationals Park, The Omni Shoreham Hotel, the University of the District of Columbia’s Van Ness campus and Union Market.
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The absence of a super voting center east of the river was first reported by The Washington Post.
Events DC had held off in offering the venue because the arena might be booked for other uses near the election, though it’s not clear what those events were, according to The Washington Post.
Pressure started to build as community activists and Washington Mystics players like Natasha Cloud spoke out, so now, the venue is being offered to the D.C. Board of Elections.
“This is what Ward 8 has become accustomed to,” said Holly Muhammad, a member of the D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8A on a super vote center originally not being on the list for Ward 8.
Muhammad said neighbors she has spoken to say a large site is needed so they won’t encounter long lines when trying to vote. Muhammad recalled that during the primary, voters waited until close to midnight to cast their ballots.
D.C. Board of Elections Chair Michael Bennett said Wards 7 and 8 have been a focus of the board because, historically, people who live east of the river are more likely to want to vote in-person.
“There just aren’t that many places east of the river large enough,” Bennett said.
Bennett said in the summer, elections officials looked at potentially having the arena as a super vote center, but were told the days they needed were not available.
Forreal @MonSportsNet has tried. @TheEventsDC what’s up? How can we make this happen? When we moved into SE we promised this community we would be apart of a solution. Lets not just talk about it….let’s be about it.
— Natasha Cloud (@T_Cloud4) September 23, 2020
Greg O’Dell, President and CEO of Events DC, said they had been in talks with the board of elections and support the efforts to promote voting east of the river.
“We have not heard from the Board of Elections in recent weeks; however, we will make sure that the dates are available for the Arena to serve as a voting center if necessary and hope to shift the potential programming to future dates,” O’Dell said in a statement to WTOP.
Bennett said he was notified Wednesday that the arena would be made available, and his teams visited the site Friday morning. While he said it’s too soon to say if the site has what is needed to become a super vote center, he is hopeful it will become one because the building is fairly new.
He said the plan right now would be to have 20 voting machines at the site, but since all the city’s voting equipment had been allocated elsewhere, some changes will need to be made.
“We are actually looking at potentially eliminating a much smaller site that traditionally doesn’t have a large voter turnout,” Bennett said.
Bennett said those machines, along with others taken from other voting precincts, would be set up at the arena.
The move comes with some logistical hiccups for the elections board.
The D.C. Board of Elections said that all of the city’s voting equipment had been allocated to other voting sites.
Looking at ESA is a top priority for DC BOE to see how it can be used. With voting equip all over DC we will need to see the space to determine how we reallocate. Need to hear back from @TheEventsDC and @EventsDCPrez to confirm and to move this process forward.
— DC Board of Elections (@Vote4DC) September 23, 2020
Now, it’s likely that a smaller voting site near the arena will be closed and the equipment moved to the more spacious location to help handle bigger crowds while allowing social distancing.
Mustafa Abdul-Salaam, ANC 8C commissioner, said he is excited to hear the arena will become a super vote center. Abdul-Salaam said voting is just as important to the community as the other core issues in Ward 8, such as wages, affordable housing and better access to health care and education.
“People have to come out to vote to protect their interests,” said Abdul-Salaam.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with information from the D.C. Board of Election, members of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission and Events DC.