For the first time, D.C. voters will be able to cast their ballots at Nationals Park during election week, D.C. Board of Elections Chair Michael Bennett told The Washington Post on Monday — the latest move in the District’s effort to mitigate delays with in-person voting.
The baseball stadium in Southeast Washington would be among a handful of “super vote centers” — a term coined by the Board of Elections to identify facilities with enough space to rapidly handle large numbers of voters. Officials also hope the extra room at these centers will make it easier for voters to remain socially distanced, helping to temper fears of the spread of the coronavirus at the polls. While voters in the District are encouraged to use ballot drop boxes or mail-in ballots, scores of D.C. residents who participated in the June primary said they requested mail-in ballots and did not receive them. During that election, the District opened just 20 polling locations instead of the usual 143, spurring long lines and wait times that prompted some people to give up.
This fall, D.C. voters will be able to cast a ballot at any of the dozens of listed voting locations; there are no designated polling places. Moreover, a ballot will be mailed to every registered voter in October, so there is no need to make a request.
In addition to Nationals Park, the elections board has identified Capital One Arena and the Omni Shoreham Hotel as other super vote centers. Bennett added that the board hopes to establish five or six of these centers ahead of the general election so elections officials can “process people faster.”
In a statement Monday, Mark D. Lerner, managing principal owner of the Washington Nationals, said, “Nationals Park is a civic asset and the Nationals will always work to ensure that it can be utilized in service to the community in as many ways as possible.”
“Since this past spring, we have hosted World Central Kitchen to help feed members of the DMV community who were in need,” he said. “This fall, we can help make sure one of our most important civic responsibilities can be completed as seamlessly and safely as possible. We are thrilled to help alleviate some of the challenges associated with voting during a pandemic and support the Board of Elections by opening Nationals Park as an election site.”
In April, with baseball shut down, the Nationals partnered with chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen and converted the ballpark into a food production and distribution facility, preparing thousands of meals per day for D.C. residents.
In August, the Los Angeles Dodgers became the first Major League Baseball team to open their stadium as a vote center for the general election. In a statement, Dodgers president and chief executive Stan Kasten called voting “all of our civic duty” and said he was proud to open Dodger Stadium “for the benefit of the community at large.”
A number of NBA franchises have also lobbied to use their arenas as voting centers, including the Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons, according to the Associated Press.
Jessie Dougherty contributed to this report.