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D.C. voting guide: What to know about voting on Election Day

An official ballot drop box outside the Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library in Northwest Washington. (Debbi Wilgoren/The Washington Post)

Election Day is here, and District officials recommend that you no longer mail in your ballot if you want to be sure it is counted — either put it in a drop box or vote in person.

Residents can cast their ballots (or drop off a mailed ballot) at any of the 32 early-vote centers. These voting centers are open 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Nov. 2; they and the other vote centers in the city will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day.

The city revamped its voting processes for the general election this year because of the coronavirus pandemic — namely, mailing a ballot to every registered voter — hoping to mitigate the long lines and technical issues that marked the June primary.

Election officials still anticipate long lines on Nov. 3 — a reflection of the heightened interest in this election and the sanitation measures in place at every vote center.

More voting guides: Virginia | Maryland

Here are answers to some common questions about how to cast your ballot.

When is the election and what is on the ballot in the District?

The general election is Nov. 3. 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.”

Confused by the crowded at-large D.C. Council race? Here’s where the candidates stand on key issues.

Where can I vote on Election Day?

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.

You can cast your ballot at any vote center, regardless of which ward you live in.

The District is operating a number of “super vote centers” — including Nationals Park and Capital One Arena — where large swaths of voters can be processed rapidly.

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 on Election Day. They must bring 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 still vote by mail?

Yes, but as of Thursday, Oct. 29, elections officials are strongly urging voters to drop their ballots off at a drop box or vote center to avoid potential delays with the U.S. Postal Service. To be counted, mailed ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and the D.C. Board of Elections must receive them no later than Nov. 13.

What if my ballot doesn’t arrive when it’s supposed to?

If your ballot didn’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.

When to expect election results in the D.C. area

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 are monitored by surveillance cameras and police may also add them to their patrol detail, according to elections officials.

Can I vote in person if my ballot was mailed to me?

Yes. The D.C. elections office tracks whether each voter cast a ballot in person or with a mailed or dropped off ballot. Once you have logged a vote, no other ballot from you can be accepted by the system. Voters whose eligibility cannot be determined may need to fill out a special ballot, which will be calculated after Election Day.

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.

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. But again, city officials say that as of Oct. 29, you should drop your ballot in a drop box rather than mailing it in.

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.

Voting in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

Map: Where to vote early in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

Voting guides: D.C. | Maryland | VirginiaHow to vote: D.C. | Maryland | Virginia

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Maryland: Maryland warns of scammers claiming to be from the Board of Elections | Citing a history of voter suppression, Black Marylanders turn out to vote in person | Md. elections officials say video’s allegation of ballot fraud is untrue. But it’s already gone viral. | Congressional races: Meet the incumbents and their challengers | Montgomery school board candidates weigh in on schools opening, online learning

Virginia: Virginians wait as long as seven hours on last day of early voting | Virginia early voters favor Biden, poll finds | Virginia’s blue wave shows no sign of slowing | Biden leads Trump 52 percent to 41 percent among likely voters | Republican divisions in Virginia House district animate Democrats’ hope for an upset | Va. voters are still requesting absentee ballots, even after the deadline passed

Are you running into voting problems? Let us know here.

Mail-in voting: Absentee ballots vs. mail-in ballots | How to prevent your mail ballot from being rejected | Maryland, D.C., Fairfax officials urge voters to avoid mailing ballots, use drop boxes instead