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In reversal, officials say Mystics’ home court can be used as voting supercenter in Southeast D.C.

Fans leave the city-owned Entertainment and Sports Arena after a game in 2019.
Fans leave the city-owned Entertainment and Sports Arena after a game in 2019. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
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D.C. neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River may get a voting super center for the presidential election after all.

Events D.C. President Greg O’Dell on Wednesday said he would make the city-owned Entertainment and Sports Arena in Ward 8 available, after The Washington Post reported earlier this week that elections officials had not found a suitable large venue in the city’s historically underserved eastern sector

The D.C. Board of Elections plans to open five voting supercenters across the city to mitigate long lines and promote social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But none of the locations — at Capital One Arena, Nationals Park, the Omni Shoreham Hotel, Dock 5 at Union Market and the University of the District of Columbia — are in Wards 7 and 8, neighborhoods where elections officials say residents have generally expressed concerns about mail delays and are more likely to want to cast ballots in person.

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Following a report in The Post about the disparity — and criticism from voters, including Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud, who plays at the Entertainment and Sports Arena — O’Dell said Wednesday that he would make the venue available as a voting center if needed.

“@TheEventsDC what’s up?” Cloud wrote in a string of tweets advocating the use of the arena for voting. “When we moved into [Southeast] we promised this community we would be apart of a solution. Lets not just talk about it....let’s be about it.”

O’Dell previously told the D.C. Elections Board he was considering using the space for other purposes around the time of the election, but he has declined to specify for what.

“We recognize and fully support the efforts to promote voting, particularly in our community East of the River,” O’Dell said in a statement. “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.”

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D. Michael Bennett, who chairs the elections board, said his team would immediately inspect the Entertainment and Sports Arena to see whether it can be used as a voting center.

He noted that the board had already “maxed out” its available voting equipment across the 95 voting sites that will be open for Election Day in the District — and said that opening a supercenter in Ward 8 might mean having to closing a smaller one in the area.

To account for the lack of a supercenter, the elections board planned to open additional voting sites in Wards 7 and 8 and place more ballot drop boxes in that part of the city.

But Bennett said the board would prioritize using the Entertainment and Sports Arena now that it’s available.

“We’d have to make some adjustments to make that happen, and we’d like to — but we may have to close one polling place there to create a super vote center that adds more equipment,” Bennett said. “It would’ve been great if we’d known this three months ago, but it’s probably worth it.”

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