The Wash
A D.C. resident drops his ballot into a drop box outside of the Mount Pleasant Library. This year’s increase in mail-in voting has posed new challenges and speculation about election results. (Zoë Watkins/The Wash)

Some Columbia Heights residents embrace drop box voting, others prefer in-person option

Columbia Heights residents use new mail-in drop box locations to submit their ballots for the upcoming presidential and local elections.

Winston Yu has voted in every election since he was eligible to vote, but this year he’ll be voting a different way. He is one of many D.C. residents taking advantage of new drop boxes, 55 in total, where voters can drop off their absentee ballots ahead of Election Day.

“I’m using the drop boxes because it’s super convenient,” Yu said. “This is the way I think it should always be done.”

The D.C. Board of Elections released a list of drop box locations Oct 5.

“Essentially, we determined that it was a good dispersal and that it covered the city in a fairly effective way by putting them in front of libraries where everyone knows where that is,” Public Information Officer for the D.C. Board of Education Nick Jacobs said.

This is the first time that D.C. has used drop boxes. The D.C. Board of Elections decided to add the drop box option due to the coronavirus pandemic. Residents voiced concerns about how they could vote while also following social distancing guidelines.

Jacobs said that drop box ballots will be counted as they are received but no official tallies will be released until Election Day.

The Wash talked to seven District voters in the Columbia Heights neighborhood. Some, like Yu, would like the drop boxes to become a staple of elections to come. Others utilized the option due to health concerns. Yet, there are still some that prefer going to a polling station and voting on Election Day.

A safer option for some

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, voters should prepare for long lines on election day and consider alternatives to voting in person at voting places.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, spreads via respiratory droplets released when people talk or breathe, which is why the CDC cautions against spending time in small, enclosed spaces with many people.

If voting in person, the CDC encourages voters to wear a mask and keep good social distance from other voters.

Although many voters cited the pandemic as a reason they were using the drop boxes to cast their ballots, Yu said it was overall a more convenient option.

He’d like to see the process of voting become easier. He said Election Day should be a national holiday, voters should have more time to vote and he’d like to see drop boxes become a staple of future elections.

Maria Foust, a divorced ex-military spouse, also decided to use the ballot drop boxes for convenience and for safety precautions. Originally from Zacatecas Mexico, Foust became a U.S. citizen 20 years ago.

“The drop boxes are convenient,” Foust said. “For me, it’s important to vote, especially now.”

Other voters prefer using the drop boxes because of pandemic related concerns.

“I think the lines are going to be really long and I don’t want to be inside an enclosed space with a bunch of people for a long, long time,” said Jennifer Parker, who is a nurse and Columbia Heights resident. “I feel like that’s when you get coronavirus.”

Parker was casting her ballot with her husband, Matthew Parker, outside the Mount Pleasant Library in Ward 1. This is not the first time Jennifer Parker has voted absentee, but it is her first time using a drop box.

The pair said they preferred the drop boxes due to recent cutbacks to the U.S. Postal Service. According to a tracker created by the New York Times, mail delays are becoming more apparent across the country. According to The Times’ reporting, even mail over short distances, which usually takes two days to deliver, is being delayed a day on average.

Matthew Parker and Jennifer Parker hold up their ballots before placing them in the drop box. The pair said they were concerned about USPS delays, so they used the drop box instead. (Zoë Watkins / The Wash)

The delay is why Matthew Parker said they were concerned their ballots wouldn’t reach polling stations in time to be counted if they submitted by mail. 

“Every vote counts,” Matthew Parker said.

‘I want to go in and press the button’

Although many residents are using the drop box option, others see in-person voting as an important ritual — one they would like to take part in.

Armonte Butler, who is 25, has not decided if he’s going to vote in person or use the drop boxes.

“But I’m thankful to have both choices,” Butler said.

Butler, who currently works for a nonprofit organization, said that he voted by mail when he was in college, but wants to experience going in-person to vote.

His great-grandmother, who is 82, told Butler recently that she is going to go to the polls to vote on Election Day.

“She told me she’s going in-person because at one point due to stigma, discrimination, and racism she was not allowed to vote,” Butler said. He has noticed a “generational voting pattern” in his family.

Butler said his mother also will be voting in person, though she has received an absentee ballot.

“She doesn’t trust the drop box,” he said. “She told me ‘I want to go in and press the button.”’

This year’s election cycle has made Butler more aware of his family’s voting habits and the importance of black people participating in elections. Butler now checks in with his friends and family members to make sure they are registered to vote.

Like Butler, ANC representative for 1A05, Cristine Miller prefers the option to vote in person but is unsure if she will go to the polls this year. She said she also doesn’t feel comfortable using the U.S. Postal Service.

“I don’t want to take any chances of it getting mixed in or lost or sent to the wrong address,” Miller said.

Miller spent most of her life living abroad and often used the mail-in option which is why she wants to experience the tradition of voting in person. She said that her international experience has greatly shaped the way she participates in voting.

Dotti Love-Wade submits her ballot in a secure drop box in front of the Columbia Heights Shopping Center. Love-Wade is an ANC commissioner for 1A11 and said she decided to vote early to be a good example for her community. (Zoë Watkins / The Wash)

Dotti Love-Wade, the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for 1A11, also decided to vote by using the drop box system. She and her husband submitted their ballots in a drop box in front of the Columbia Heights Shopping Center on 3100 14th Street NW.

“I wanted to get my vote out early and set an example for my community,” Love-Wade said.

Love-Wade said by using the drop boxes, she feels it is a secure way to vote and it takes the pressure off of the postal service and lines on election day.

Love-Wade said she knows a few young people who will not vote this year and doesn’t understand why they are not voting.

“They don’t see how it matters.” she said . “But they do believe in Black Lives Matter and I asked them ‘how can you separate the two?’”

Love-Wade was able to persuade her daughter’s boyfriend to register to vote this year. She said she’s trying to talk to more young black people about the importance of voting but they “seem so disconnected.”

Today is the last day for D.C. residents to register to vote online, by mail and to update their voter registration. Early voting will begin on Oct. 27, which also happens to be the last day residents can request for an absentee ballot.

Zoë Watkins

Zoë Watkins is a journalist interested in immigration, foreign policy, climate change, and culture. She currently covers Columbia Heights for The Wash. When Zoë isn't writing, she's watching international dramas or studying languages on Duolingo.

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Important Dates for D.C. Voters

Oct. 13 – voter registration deadline

Oct. 27 – Nov. 2 – early in-person voting

Nov. 3 – Election Day, mail-in ballots must be postmarked or dropped off by Nov. 3

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