As the District attempts to carry out a primary election on Tuesday like none before — one in which officials, mindful of the coronavirus pandemic, have shrunk the number of Election Day voting locations and urged residents to instead vote by mail — the D.C. Board of Elections resorted over the weekend to an unusual personalized approach.
Staff members drove around the District hand-delivering ballots to some voters at their homes.
The tour of the city with cars full of ballots was just one more unexpected event in a primary election that the Board of Elections has struggled to manage. Some Washingtonians have complained that the process of obtaining a mail-in ballot has been difficult or impossible for them — and the idea of voting in person during a pandemic is fraught.
The Board of Elections has received absentee ballot requests from 92,093 residents — approaching the number of total voters in the 2016 Democratic primary. As of Sunday, 37,000 ballots have been mailed back, said Rachel Coll, a spokeswoman for the Board of Elections.
Voters have until Tuesday to mail in their ballots, which will be counted if they are received within seven days of the election. Those who haven’t yet voted by mail or during early voting can vote in person Tuesday at one of the 20 voting centers set up in place of the usual polls at 143 precincts.
Most of the ballots that officials hand-delivered over the weekend went to voters who had placed their requests for an absentee ballot May 24-26, the final days to submit the request, Coll said. She said officials decided hand delivery was needed to make sure those voters could mail their ballots back in time.
But Rachel Rodgers, who was surprised to receive a personal ballot delivery Saturday, said she submitted her request on April 30, well before the deadline. When she called on May 21 to ask why her ballot hadn’t arrived, she learned the Board of Elections had not printed her apartment number on the envelope.
Coll acknowledged that the agency has heard from voters who said they had trouble getting mail-in ballots but said she did not have a way of counting how many.
Barbara Strack tried on May 26 to use both the official app and website to submit her ballot request but found that the website was frozen and the app told her repeatedly “Submit failed.” She said she couldn’t get help from the Board of Elections.
She contemplated voting in person Tuesday but decided she didn’t want to risk catching the coronavirus, she said. So Strack, who lives in Ward 1, with essentially no contested races on the ballot, said she will not be voting.
“It’s frustrating and disappointing,” she said. “It is such a basic civic responsibility, and I was making an effort to try to get my ballot by the deadline.”
Ben Needham, a Ward 5 resident, downloaded the absentee ballot request form and emailed it April 30 to the address on the form.
When he had not received a ballot by May 28, he called the Board of Elections. He said that the person who answered told him he had emailed the wrong address, even though he had used the address on the form and received a confirmation email, which he showed a Washington Post reporter, saying that his ballot request had been received.
“It pains me that in a city full of minorities that complains about electoral representation, we can’t get it right for everyone who wants to vote to be able to vote,” Needham said.
He had not received his ballot by Monday, so he made plans for the day of the primary: “I’m going to put on my mask and go vote.”