The Capital One Arena will be used for early and day-of voting for the Nov. 3 election.
In normal times, it's a place you can watch basketball, hockey, monster trucks, Disney on Ice, Celine Dion, or Tool. But now the Capital One Arena will have a new purpose: polling place.
D.C. election officials have confirmed to DCist/WAMU that they'll be using the facility for early and day-of voting for November's election, joining Atlanta and Detroit as cities that are planning to repurpose basketball arenas as massive polling places where larger crowds can be accommodated while respecting social distancing rules.
The move follows an offer late last month from Monumental Sports and Entertainment—which owns the Washington Wizards, Washington Mystics, and Washington Capitals—for the city to use the arena as a polling place. The organization made the offer as part of a broader plan by the teams and its athletes to promote voting ahead of the November elections.
The decision to use Capital One Arena as a voting location comes as election officials are finalizing the locations of the 20 early voting sites they plan to open for a two-week period ahead of the Nov. 3 election and the 80 polling places they'll be opening on Election Day itself.
While some city officials—Mayor Muriel Bowser included—had pushed for the D.C. Board of Elections to open all 144 polling places used during normal election cycles, election officials countered that doing so would be logistically challenging because of a shortage of poll workers and possible locations where social distancing could be consistently practiced. They instead pledged to open a smaller number, but also to focus on larger facilities—like hotel ballrooms—where more people could be accommodated while keeping them away from each other.
A similar dance is taking place in Maryland, where Gov. Larry Hogan has demanded that all the usual polling places—more than 1,800—be open to voters on Election Day. Last week, though, the Maryland State Board of Elections proposed an alternate plan for the state's 79 early-voting sites to remain open on Election Day and 282 public high schools to be used as polling places.
And while Maryland mailed every voter a ballot ahead of the June 2 primary, Hogan opted to make voters request those ballots for November. That's what D.C. made voters do ahead of its June primary, but election officials opted instead to proactively send all of the city's 460,000 registered voters a ballot in the mail for the November election.
Alice Miller, the director of the D.C. Board of Elections, said last week the city had entered into a contract with a specialized mail house to send out ballots so voters start receiving them by Oct. 1. And to address possible challenges with the U.S. Postal Service, she also said the elections board will place 50 ballot drop boxes across D.C.
As for the Capital One Arena, any D.C. voter will be able to cast a ballot there. But don't get too excited about exercising your franchise surrounded by a cheering crowd of supporters; the current plan is to use the arena's concourse for voting, not the floor space that plays host to professional sports and concerts.