Apr 6, 2022 - News

Town Talker: D.C.'s vote-by-mail jitters, 2022 edition

Illustration of the Wilson building in Washington with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Two years ago, the D.C. Board of Elections was struggling in its first pandemic primary. Staff even resorted to driving around town to hand-deliver ballots to voters who never got one in the mail. Lines for some voting centers stretched past midnight.

Now, uncertainty still surrounds the upcoming June 21 primary.

What I’m hearing: Campaigns around the city are wondering if previous snafus won’t resurface and how to precisely time their voter outreach — a euphemism for a blitz of mailers and robocalls, in addition to last-minute door knocking — with the date that ballots are expected to hit voters’ mailboxes.

Why it matters: This is D.C.’s latest attempt at expanded mail-in voting. In 2020, 11% of all mail-in ballots sent to registered voters in the general election never made it to their recipients, according to a critical audit.

Details: Ballots are expected to begin mailing out to voters in waves on May 16.

  • But when asked if that date was set in stone, elections board spokesperson Nick Jacobs said, “Well, let’s say stone-ish.”
  • “Believe it or not, we’re getting indications from some of our vendors that they’re having supply chain issues with ink and paper,” he added.
  • Records show the city signed a $793,000 contract in February with K&H Printers, a company based in Everett, Washington that also printed and mailed ballots in 2020. That year, voters in poorer Ward 8 faced the brunt of undelivered ballots.

Despite that, Jacobs asserts the board is “completely ready” for this year’s elections. He says voters shouldn’t be alarmed if ballots take a few days after May 16 to arrive.

Yes, but: This election cycle is already off to a rocky start. The board’s website and email server crashed on March 23, the deadline for campaigns to submit their petitions in person at the board's Navy Yard office to qualify for the ballot.

  • “Did they learn anything? Their website went down for a whole day,” says John Capozzi, a veteran Ward 7 Democrat.

Routine requests to the board, such as getting voter rolls, “ends up being much more of a problem than it used to be,” says Keith Ivey, a progressive activist who closely tracks elections at DC Geekery. “I do feel like things have gotten worse in some ways within the last year.”

Here’s what else you need to know about this primary, per Jacobs:

  • May 27: Mail ballot drop boxes open.
  • June 10 to June 19: Early voting across 50 voting centers.
  • June 21: Election Day, when 40 additional centers will open. (The city is still shying away from opening all 144 precincts. Voters from any neighborhood can cast their ballot at one of the centers.)

💬 Town Talker is Cuneyt's weekly column on local politics. Send what you think is — or should be — the talk of the town to [email protected].


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