In an election year of pandemic-induced social distancing coupled with projected record-breaking voter turnout, cities are turning to their sprawling hotels to provide space for voters to exercise their civic duty.
When the Kimpton La Peer Hotel in West Hollywood was recently tapped to transform itself into an official Los Angeles early-voting center this month, its staff jumped at the idea.
“Of course the answer was yes,” Kimpton General Manager Nick Rimedio, who is also the chairman of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, told The Washington Post. He and his staff were “so delighted we could make our facility available for something as important as voting right now … I couldn’t think of a better way to support our community.”
Rimedio estimates that bookings at the property have been 50 percent of last year’s levels because of the coronavirus. The rooftop of the chic Los Angeles hotel, which is typically outdoor dining space, will now be one of L.A.’s early-voting centers this election cycle. Fifteen voting booths will be open on the rooftop from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3.
“I’m fairly confident we’re going to have the best view of any polling place on the West Coast,” Rimedio said of the rooftop space. The open-air pavilion overlooks downtown L.A., the Hollywood Hills and Century City.
Luxe hotels struggling with bookings during the pandemic are finding new purpose as polling locations for the upcoming election, which could see record voter turnout amid a pandemic that calls for enough space for social distancing. And others are offering special packages or deals for voters, regardless of where they cast their ballot. While virtually any business has been able to host voters in years past, many hotels are stepping up this year for the first time.
The Kimpton La Peer Hotel is not the only struggling property in the United States to become a polling location amid a public need for more voting spaces during the coronavirus pandemic. The expansive Omni Shoreham Hotel in D.C., which is closed until January 2021, will be an early-voting location beginning Oct. 27 for D.C.’s Ward 3 constituents. The historic property has long hosted presidential and congressional meetings, conferences and galas; in 2018, its vestibule hosted part of the state funeral of President George H.W Bush.
“D. C.'s board of elections reached out to us, given our size in this world of social distancing,” said Mark Roche-Garland, Omni’s general manager. “We have plenty of space, across several ballrooms and 104,000 square feet of meeting space, to accommodate this unique election cycle … . The hotel was built in 1930, and in terms of space, they just don’t build them like that anymore."
In Texas, Houston’s Grand Tuscany Hotel will operate as one of several hotel voting locations for Harris County, which includes the Omni Houston Hotel. Both the Omni and the Grand Tuscany participated as voting locations in 2019, but Houston officials say more properties have stepped up this year, with the number of hotels as polling places doubling.
“We are still enduring a global pandemic and needed bigger locations to account for social distancing,” Elizabeth Lewis, a spokeswoman for the Harris County Clerk’s Office, said in an email. She said the county more than tripled its typical voting locations by identifying facilities “that could accommodate social distancing and projected record voter turnout.”
Hotel Figueroa in downtown L.A. will join the city’s early polling places this month, with its Gran Sala ballroom open to voters starting Oct. 30. The trendy hotel, which dates back to 1926 when it was founded by women as a YWCA hostel, showcases female artists and has remained open throughout the pandemic to house medical workers as well as California wildfire evacuees.
“We stand in solidarity alongside the restaurant and tourism industry across Los Angeles, and the world that has been so adversely impacted by covid-19,” Hotel Figueroa Managing Director Connie Wang said via email. “In this unprecedented ‘medical wartime,’ we simply wish to be of service to our community, now more than ever.”
The Figueroa has also been hit hard by the pandemic, calling its 50 percent occupancy levels a welcome improvement from the early pandemic days. Hosting in-person voting in its ballroom means customers staying with and dining at the hotel will not be impacted during the five days of voting. “Everything in the hotel will be operating as normal for those five days,” Hotel Figueroa spokesperson Meghan Patke said.
Patke said the property lobbied L.A. officials for months to become a voting location, given its roots serving the early-20th-century movement for women’s suffrage, which had its 100th anniversary in August. “We wanted to open up our doors now for the community to feel encouraged that they could vote in a safe, socially distanced environment.”
And as more hotels aim to encourage voting this year, proof of a vote can earn travelers special perks and help hotels secure more business. For the first time, Fort Lauderdale’s Hyatt Centric Las Olas is offering an “Exercise Your Right & Stay The Night” deal in which voters who book more than one night get their second night for $59 to mark the 59th presidential election. The hotel will also charge voters only $5.90 for their first drink at the hotel bar. Both specials require proof of having already voted, and they are available to the public through Nov. 30.
“Of course, the hope is always that offering an attractive rate will help facilitate bookings,” a spokesperson said. “Especially in crazy times like these that have been so tough on everyone in the hotel industry.”
In another election special, the InterContinental Miami is offering an early-voting incentive to guests. The hotel’s Early Voting, Early Check-in package includes early check-in when guests show proof of early voting no matter where they have done it. From $185 per night, the package also features access to a private IHG beach club, which includes two lounge chairs and a beach umbrella. It is available from Oct. 19 through Nov. 30, and the property is located near some downtown Miami early-voting locations.
The hotel “is located near multiple early-voting sites, Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science and Stephen P. Clark Government Center,” an InterContinental Miami spokesperson said, “making it easy for Miami Dade-based guests to fulfill their civic duty and treat themselves after.”
Encouraging voting nationwide this year for the first time, D.C.’s Hamilton Hotel, located just blocks from the White House, is providing iPads in every guest room that open directly to When We All Vote’s voter registration page, which provides information on how to vote in every state. The hotel also has a Suffrage Suite honoring the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote with historic news clippings and images of famous female movers and shakers. The Hamilton Hotel’s artifacts can be perused an interactive online gallery on the hotel’s website, and it includes images from the Library of Congress, Freedom Forum Institute and the Newseum — the shuttered D.C. news museum. Hung on the wall is a large portrait of the Supreme Court’s female justices, called “The Four Justices,” that the property said “brings the suite to life.”
A similar image hangs in the aforementioned Hotel Figueroa’s Gran Sala ballroom, which Patke said she hopes inspires voters this Election Day. “It’s this portrait of our female founders standing in that same Gran Sala space, looking down on you,” she said. “I like to think they will be looking down on everyone there voting, with a lot of pride.”