Don’t get us wrong. The board absolutely made the right decision in limiting the number of physical voting sites for the June 2 presidential and local primary as it undertakes an effort to encourage voters to use absentee ballots to vote by mail. Switching completely to vote-by-mail was considered, but officials prudently determined they didn’t have time to properly prepare. Given the dangers of the highly contagious virus, all efforts must be made to adhere to the advice of public health experts about the need for social distancing and the danger of crowds. But the importance of voting — the vital role it plays in our democracy — cannot be diminished. In addition to casting votes in the Democratic presidential primary, D.C. voters will be making key decisions about several D.C. Council races.
So we hope every D.C. voter goes to the board’s website and follows instructions on how to get an absentee ballot. Therein, though, lies some of the concern, since the site is not exactly user-friendly. For example, it is currently not possible to request an absentee ballot in one smooth online process; the form needs to be printed out or downloaded or scanned in. Officials said the website is being redesigned and that a convenient phone app is already available.
Other plans outlined by officials also seem sensible. They will send absentee-ballot request forms with prepaid postage to all registered voters, supported by an intensive public relations campaign to reach all voters, with an emphasis on those who are not on social media.
Success depends upon execution. D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), chair of a committee with oversight of the independent agency, told us he and his office are in near-daily contact with election officials to troubleshoot any potential problems. The agency is operating remotely, effective Monday, after staff exposure to covid-19, which will add to its challenges. It is important that the mayor and council give election officials the resources and support they need to do their critical job in these challenging times.