DC Residents Set To Vote Tuesday Amid Pandemic and Social Unrest

June 2, 2020 by Gaspard Le Dem
Marty Goetz, right, and Diane White, prepare the voting screens as they start to set up a polling place Monday, June 1, 2020, for the voting for Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary in Jackson Township near Zelienople, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

WASHINGTON – Polls are set to open on Tuesday for the District of Columbia’s primary election despite ongoing civil unrest and a lingering coronavirus outbreak in the nation’s capital.

For the past three nights, the District has been rocked by violent clashes between police and demonstrators protesting the killing of George Floyd — a black man — by a white police officer last week in Minneapolis.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser set a curfew for residents on Sunday, but her order was defied by hundreds of people who stayed out in the streets well beyond the 11 p.m. deadline. 

Just steps from the White House near Lafayette Square, the lobby of the AFL-CIO headquarters and the basement of the historic St. John’s Church were set ablaze and several vehicles were torched.

As the protests raged, President Trump was reportedly rushed to a bunker in the White House basement and lights were turned off outside the executive mansion.

At a press conference, Bowser announced that she would renew the evening curfew starting at 7 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday. “We will not allow the continued destruction of our hometown by people who are coming here to protest or by D.C. residents,” she said. People will be allowed outside beyond the curfew on Tuesday, but for the purpose of voting only.

Bowser said she empathized with the protesters on Monday, but implored them to find non-violent “solutions” to create change. “Every single American should be outraged by the murder of George Floyd,” she said. “However, smashed windows and looting are becoming a bigger story than the broken systems that got us here.”

But protests are expected to continue, raising concerns they could interfere with the primary election, which begins at 7 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m. on Tuesday. 

To avoid the spread of the coronavirus at crowded voting centers, the District’s Board of Elections has promoted mail voting by sending absentee ballot request forms to all D.C. residents. But many residents have reported difficulties obtaining the forms, according to the Washington Post.

Usually, D.C. voters can choose from 144 polling places on election day, but the board of elections has reduced the number of voting centers to just 22 locations this year. Masks will be required at all voting centers and social distancing will be enforced.

Though the District had seen a sustained decrease in COVID-19 cases since early May, officials are still reporting new cases and deaths on a daily basis, and crowded demonstrations have raised concerns that there could be new spikes. On Monday, D.C. reported two new coronavirus related deaths, raising the District’s death toll to 468.

Registered Democrats will get to vote for their presidential nominee on Tuesday, though Joe Biden’s path to the Democratic National Convention is by now all but assured.

Residents will also vote for councilmembers in Wards 2, 4, 7, 8, along with one at-large councilmember. According to DCBOE statistics from April 30, 2020, around 496,000 people are registered to vote in 2020, with about 76% Democrats, 6% Republicans, and around 17% unaffiliated voters.

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