Despite these improvements, the D.C. Board of Elections has struggled at times to get its messages across clearly. President Trump’s attacks on the U.S. Postal Service have done little to quell anxiety for prospective voters, prompting D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to this summer that she has “a lot of concerns about the upcoming election.”
“We are seeing unprecedented voter suppression efforts taking place and real problems of people trying to slow or stop mail, or prevent people from having access,” Bowser told reporters in August. “We all need to be braced for an attack on the vote-by-mail system — be as prepared as possible to have as many options for in-person voting for as long as possible to deal with that — and ensure we have enough volunteers and people to support voters.”
Here are answers to some common questions about how to register to vote and secure your ballot ahead of Election Day.
When is the election and what is on the ballot in the District?
The general election is Nov. 3, and in-person early voting begins Oct. 27. In addition to the presidential contest between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump, several D.C. Council and other local races will be on the ballot, as well as an initiative on whether to decriminalize the use of psychedelic plants, including “magic mushrooms.”
Can I still register? How do I know if I’m eligible?
The deadline to register to vote was Oct. 13, but voters can also register in person while voting early or on Election Day. They must bring a valid proof of residence; important details can be found here.. To be eligible to vote in D.C., you must be a U.S. citizen and have lived in the District for at least 30 days before the election. To participate in the general election, you must be at least 18 years old by Election Day. You are not eligible to vote if you claim voting residence outside the District or have been declared legally incompetent to vote by a court of law.
What if I’m registered in another state?
If you are registered to vote in another state but have moved to this District, this is not a problem. There is a section on the D.C. voter registration application where you can identify the county and state where you were previously registered. The D.C. Board of Elections will then contact those elections officials to confirm your registration in the District
Can I vote by mail?
Yes, and because of the coronavirus pandemic, you’re encouraged to use this option or drop your ballot off at a drop box. The Board of Elections started mailing ballots to every registered voter in the District in the first week of October. Instructions on how to vote and return the ballot will be included. If you choose to vote in person (more information on that below), you should bring the ballot you received in the mail with you when you vote.
What if my ballot doesn’t arrive when it’s supposed to?
If your ballot doesn’t arrive by Oct. 21 — because it got lost in the mail, was sent to the wrong address or for any other reason — the Board of Elections says you should plan to vote in-person at a vote center. If you have a physical impairment, preexisting condition or general concerns about voting in person, you should call the Board of Elections at 202-727-2525.
The Board of Elections will not mail out another ballot if you did not receive your first one.
What are the deadlines to get an absentee ballot?
If you want your ballot mailed to a different address, you should fill out an absentee ballot request form and mail, fax or email it to the Board of Elections. The instructions for this process are laid out here. Requests to change the address to which your ballot is sent must be received by the Board of Elections at least seven days before Election Day (Oct. 27 or earlier).
Can I vote in person early? If so, when and where? And where can I vote on Election Day?
Yes, you can vote early. The list of early-voting centers can be found here. Each ward has two early-voting locations that will be open Oct. 27 through Nov. 2 from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Ninety-five vote centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day. The full list of those can be found here.
Whether you are voting early or on Election Day, you should bring your mailed ballot with you. You can cast your ballot at any vote center, regardless of which ward you live in.
The District will operate a number of “super vote centers” — including Nationals Park and Capital One Arena — where large swaths of voters can be processed rapidly.
What’s the deal with ballot drop boxes?
There are at least 55 ballot drop-box locations, with at least five drop sites per ward. These boxes are designed to provide voters with secure, socially distanced voting options and mitigate concerns about ballots getting delayed in the mail. These boxes will be emptied at least twice a day and will be available for use until polls close at 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.
The use of drop boxes is heavily encouraged by the Board of Elections. If you are unable to go to a drop box yourself, a friend or neighbor can collect your completed, sealed ballot and drop it off for you.
Boxes will be placed liberally and strategically in Wards 7 and 8, where there are significant concerns about mail delays, Bennett said. They’ll be monitored by surveillance cameras and police may also add them to their patrol detail, according to elections officials.
When is the deadline to turn in or mail back my ballot?
According to the Board of Elections, your completed mailed ballot “must be postmarked or otherwise demonstrated to be sent on or before Election Day.” For your vote to count, it must arrive no later than Nov. 13 — 10 days after Election Day. If you vote using a ballot drop box, you must drop off your completed ballot by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.
You can return your mail-in or absentee ballot as soon as you receive it and complete it.
Can I vote in person if my ballot was mailed to me?
Yes. You can bring your completed ballot to an early-voting location or to a vote center on Election Day and turn it in there, according to the Board of Elections. If you already mailed in your ballot and then go to vote in person, however, you’ll need to fill out a special ballot, which will be calculated after Election Day and issued to people whose voting eligibility cannot be determined while voting in person. In this case, the process would help make sure that your vote is counted only once.
When a person submits a mail-in ballot, its bar code will be scanned, meaning that same person cannot then cast a ballot in person. Conversely, as soon as someone votes in person, the Board of Elections won’t open any mail-in ballot that the person submits.
How do I ensure my vote gets counted and what is signature matching?
Voters can track the status of their mail-in ballot here. The D.C. Board of Elections uses signature verification when processing dropped off or mailed-in ballots, to be checked against the signature it has on file.
Bennett called it “critically important” for voters to feel confident ahead of this election. “People want to make sure their vote is counted, and so do we,” he added.
How do I volunteer at a polling station?
D.C. election officials this summer were seeking more workers to help on Election Day and at early-voting locations. They now have enough people, but are still collecting names of people who might want to work in a future election. To be eligible, you must be a D.C. resident, at least 16 years old and complete four hours of training.
What’s being done to help senior citizens?
The Board of Elections plans to visit 16 senior buildings under the D.C. Housing Authority beginning Oct. 27, giving senior citizens a chance to drop off their ballots directly with board staff during the early voting period. The staff members will spend a few hours collecting ballots in each facility, according to D.C. elections board spokesperson Nick Jacobs.
Some private residential facilities for senior citizens have requested this ballot collection as well, Jacobs said. The board is working with these facilities on a case-by-case basis.
Curbside assistance will be available at 90 vote centers for those who need special accommodations because of disability, age or illness. The board says voting by mail-in ballot, however, is the safest way for seniors to cast their ballots in the general election, either through the U.S. Postal Service or the early-voting period collection efforts.
Do I need a stamp for my mail-in ballot?
No. The ballots come with an envelope that has prepaid postage.
Why is there so much concern about the U.S. Postal Service this year?
Although the Postal Service has coordinated vote-by-mail programs with some Western states for years, an unprecedented number of voters are eligible to cast a ballot this way in November, in part because states want to limit in-person voting to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. The Postal Service warned all but four states that they have deadlines that could disenfranchise voters. At the same time, operational changes implemented over the past few months have slowed delivery by as much as a week in some places, fueling widespread fears that ballots could be delivered too late to count in November.
Congress intends to address the matter, and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has said he will suspend, but not necessarily reverse, the heavily criticized cost-cutting measures. It is not clear when the delivery slowdowns will end.
What has President Trump been saying about mail-in voting, and how are local officials responding?
President Trump has claimed, without evidence, that mail-in balloting will be laden with fraud. Local officials note that very few examples of fraud have been connected to absentee ballots in previous elections. A recent Washington Post analysis of data collected by three vote-by-mail states with help from the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center found that officials identified just 372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections.