There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
The good news, D.C., is that you have options when it comes to selecting the next two at-large councilmembers. The bad news is that you might have too many. While the COVID-19 pandemic has completely uprooted traditional campaigning, a ridiculous number of candidates are running for two open seats on the D.C. Council. The stacked ballot, featuring 24 candidates, is in part a function of D.C.’s new publicly funded campaign program, which has given out almost $900,000 to at-large Council candidates as of press time.
So how the hell are you supposed to make your choice from this list of two dozen aspiring elected officials? We hope this guide will help.
We asked 22 candidates the same questions about prominent issues in D.C., including housing, education, and policing, among others. (Rick Murphree dropped out of the race after ballots were printed and Kathy Henderson declined our invitation to participate.)
Their answers, like their politics, run the gamut. The field includes political newcomers, former D.C. government employees, progressives, moderates, and one former councilmember gunning for his third trip to the Wilson Building.
Each voter gets to select two candidates from the list of 24. One seat is reserved for a non-Democrat. Incumbent At-Large Councilmember Robert White is seeking re-election as the Democratic nominee and faces a field of independents, one Libertarian, one member of the Statehood Green Party, and one Republican.
Traditional thinking would presume that White is a lock for one of the seats, but the abnormally large field calls that into question.
Also in the guide, City Paper contributor and new D.C. voter Sarah Marloff has you covered with instructions on how, where, and when to cast your ballot. And Food Editor Laura Hayes breaks down Initiative 81, a largely symbolic measure aimed at lessening criminal enforcement for possessing, cultivating, purchasing, or distributing magic mushrooms and other natural psychedelic plants.
Election Day is Nov. 3, and early voting centers open across D.C. on Oct. 27. As a pandemic-related safety precaution, the DC Board of Elections has also sent ballots to every registered voter in the District, so you can mail in or turn in your ballot at drop boxes before then. —Mitch Ryals
Interviews by Amanda Michelle Gomez, Laura Hayes, Will Lennon, Sarah Marloff, Mitch Ryals, Tom Sherwood, Kelyn Soong, and Elizabeth Tuten
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Christina Henderson, 33, lives in Petworth
Henderson is a former staffer for At-Large Councilmember David Grosso. She’s taking a leave of absence from her job working for Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer to run for office.
Vincent Orange, 63, lives in Brookland
Orange is a former D.C. councilmember and former president and CEO of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. He lost his seat to At-Large Councilmember Robert White in 2016 and resigned before his term ended after some councilmembers called foul when he took the job at the Chamber during his lame-duck term. The business-friendly politician touts maturity and institutional knowledge as he looks to put ethical bugaboos behind him.
Franklin Garcia, 51, lives in Woodridge
Garcia has served as D.C.’s shadow representative since 2015, is the former president and founder of the DC Latino Caucus, and is the current president of the DC Latino Leadership Council.
Marya Pickering, 74, lives in Tenleytown
Pickering is a Republican and an immigrant of Polish descent. She was one of a handful of people to attend a “rally” in May calling on Mayor Muriel Bowser to reopen the city despite public health data showing it was not safe.
Marcus Goodwin, 31, lives in Shepherd Park
Goodwin is a real estate developer who lost a bid to unseat At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds in 2018. He was president of the D.C. Young Democrats but changed his party registration to independent to run for office. He has support from many in the business community and from the old guard of D.C. politics, including former councilmembers Charlene Drew Jarvis and Frank Smith, Cora Masters Barry, and Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray.
Markus Batchelor, 27, lives in Congress Heights
Batchelor represents Ward 8 on the State Board of Education. Although he fits in with many local progressive groups, he’s failed to lock down their support for his campaign. He touts his roots in Ward 8 as a needed perspective on the Council.
Michangelo “Doctor Mic” Scruggs, 46, lives in Crestwood
Scruggs is a podiatrist and a political newcomer. His campaign has little visibility and less than $1,000 in total campaign contributions.
Mario Cristaldo, 58, lives in Adams Morgan
Cristaldo is a longtime community activist and recipient of the Council’s 2018 Community Cornerstone Award and was the executive director of the Vida Senior Center, which provides services and housing to seniors. During his time as mayor, Anthony Williams appointed Cristaldo, who is Latino, to the Rental Housing Conversion Task Force.
Calvin H. Gurley, 50, lives in Takoma
Gurley is an accountant and perennial candidate for local public office. He’s taken in less than $300 in campaign contributions, according to his August finance report.
Claudia Barragan, 42, lives in Pleasant Hills
Barragan is a former policy staffer for Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White and an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 5. She owns Communities in Practice, an urban planning and technical services company, and has focused much of her campaign on raising the voices and needs of immigrants. She is originally from Bolivia and moved to D.C. with her family in 1987.
Keith Silver, 66, lives in Mount Vernon Triangle
Silver has served as an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Wards 5 and 6, and gained some media attention in 2011 when he was arrested during a protest for voting rights on Capitol Hill. He was acquitted at trial.
Alexander M. Padro, 56, lives in Shaw
Padro is the co-founder and executive director of Shaw Main Streets and an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 6. He’s earned many D.C. government appointments, including to the African American Heritage Trail Advisory Committee and the Commemorative Works Committee. He’s a member of the Gertrude Stein Democrats and the ANC Rainbow Caucus.
Robert White, 38, lives in Shepherd Park
White is the Democratic nominee, and is seeking a second term on the Council. He unseated Vincent Orange in 2016 and typically ranks among the Council’s progressive members. He chairs the Committee on Facilities and Procurement and has championed legislation enfranchising people serving prison time for felony crimes.
Jeanné Lewis, 40, lives in Fort Davis Park
Lewis is a first-time candidate and the vice president of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, where she pushes grantmakers to fund social justice nonprofits. Before that, Lewis was the director of U.S. programs for the Search for Common Ground where she worked with members of Congress to understand the connection between racism and policy.
Mónica Palacio, 52, lives in Takoma
Palacio, a civil rights attorney, stepped down as the director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights to run for office. She highlights her experience balancing that agency’s budget under mayors Vince Gray and Muriel Bowser. Palacio is from Bogotá, Colombia, was raised in New York City, and has lived in D.C. for three decades.
Ann C. Wilcox, 65, lives in Shepherd Park
Wilcox is Statehood Green Party’s candidate, a lawyer, and the former Ward 2 representative on the State Board of Education.
Joe Bishop-Henchman, 39, lives in Eckington
Bishop-Henchman is running as a Libertarian and chairs D.C.’s Libertarian Party. He’s the vice president of policy and litigation at the National Taxpayers Union Foundation.
Eric M. Rogers, 46, lives in Hillcrest
Rogers is a former staffer for councilmembers Sharon Ambrose and Kevin Chavous and has worked in multiple D.C. agencies, including the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the Department of Small and Local Business Development. He was Council Chairman Phil Mendelson’s 2018 re-election campaign manager.
Chander Jayaraman, 50, lives in Capitol Hill
Jayaraman is the chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B. He immigrated to the District from India at a young age, and now runs an emergency planning consulting company, Strategic Educational Consulting LLC.
A’Shia Howard, 53, lives in Eastland Gardens
Howard is a political newcomer and does not appear to have raised any campaign funds. Howard is a minister and also owns a T-shirt company. She worked as a lifeguard for the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation in the 1980s and administrative positions with the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers.
Ed Lazere, 56, lives in Brookland
Lazere is the former longtime director of the left-leaning DC Fiscal Policy Institute, where he’s lobbied for policies he believes will further racial and economic equality. He lost a bid to unseat Council Chairman Phil Mendelson in 2018.
Will Merrifield, 41, lives in Deanwood
Merrifield was a lawyer for the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless and resigned his position to run for office. He’s focused his campaign on doing away with government subsidies for private developers and eliminating their role in building affordable housing.
Who should shoulder the burden of unpaid rent during the public health emergency?
Henderson: I think it’s important for the D.C. government to step in to help both renters and landlords in this moment in terms of unpaid rent. I’m in favor of emergency rental assistance and even doing medium supports for renters who are experiencing a housing emergency and a housing crisis at this point. By providing the emergency rental assistance, we’re also ensuring that landlords are continuing to receive payment.
Orange: During the public health emergency, there are no evictions that are taking place, so right now the landlord and the renter are sharing that burden of unpaid rent with some type of negotiations taking place to catch up on past rent once the public health emergency is over.
Garcia: I think that the city needs to come up with ways to ensure that the low-income earners stay in place. We have a number of ways in which we can subsidize rent for people. I am a landlord. I have a few buildings in Baltimore. As somebody who is working with city officials outside of D.C., I’m looking at the practices they put in place.
Pickering: That’s a tough one because it costs money to keep the lights on and keep the water flowing in buildings. There ought to be a joint effort, and if the city has extra funds that can be used to help people in this situation, that should become a priority. Landlords can’t operate those buildings for free.
Goodwin: We need to boost support for rental assistance, and a great way for us to do that is to clamp down on tax avoidance. On a local level, we know that there are people who make a lot of money but don’t pay their fair share. It’s long overdue for us to repatriate those dollars and reform our tax laws.
Batchelor: The government has to step in and provide relief both for renters [and landlords]. I’ll fight from the Council to make sure the District government considers canceling rent for some of our most financially insecure folks and also for small owners providing affordable housing.
Scruggs: The city. We have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that our citizens have housing—that they’re in their homes and don’t risk eviction. We also have landlords that rely on rent as income. The city needs to ensure that we are providing grants and other incentives for landlords so that they can meet their bottom line and pay their bills.
Cristaldo: The landlords, to start with. It’s just obvious that this is a very difficult situation for all of us. With the moratorium of evictions, the rent should be absorbed by them at this time. And the D.C. government has a rainy day fund. It’s pouring rain right now.
Gurley: The District government. Being a former employee of FEMA, of DHS, this is what you call an emergency. The District government, the Council, has a responsibility to provide clean water and policing during this time. You collect taxes and you spend. That’s all a government does. Collect and spend.
Barragan: I think we need to be more targeted about who doesn’t pay rent. The money is really tight, and by allowing people who make more than 80 percent [of the area median income] to also apply for rent relief, we’re shooting our foot. Part of it has to come from government subsidies, but other parts should come from the mortgage relief that the landlords are getting through the CARES Act.
Silver: I’m the only one that’s staunchly advocating for the D.C. government to bear the burden. (Editor’s note: Multiple candidates have called for the government to bear the cost of unpaid rent.) Discussion of a stimulus check is virtually tabled in the House and in the Senate because now everybody’s focused on the November election. Who knows where that’s gonna go? We can’t depend on the federal government to bail us out.
Padro: Ultimately, the tenants will have to be responsible for paying their unpaid rent but a reasonable time period would be established for such repayment.
White: It’s going to be a balancing act between assistance from the federal and local government and leniency from lenders and landlords. No one entity can shoulder the entire burden.
Lewis: We need to protect renters who’ve lost their jobs due to COVID-19. In the long term, we need to invest in a housing infrastructure that’s truly affordable for renters and homeowners—including public housing, single-family homes, and new ideas like community land trusts and deepening investment in co-ops.
Palacio: I think the District government needs to prioritize shouldering the burden. We need to streamline the hundreds of millions of dollars already spent through [the DC Housing Authority] and the [Department of Housing and Community Development], and all the efforts we’re putting into housing are going to need to be re-examined to use those resources in the short term to make sure we can pay rent.
Wilcox: We need to make sure the city makes rental assistance available to renters—and congressional funds if available. Landlords can’t be expected to not get any money for their properties, but we need to make sure long-term payment plans are arranged and tenants are given as much legal support as possible—a combination of tenant assistance funds and legal assistance.
Bishop-Henchman: Ideally, federal relief. But they seem to be unable to pass anything right now. It worked for a couple of months there. That’s where ideally it should come from.
Rogers: It should be a shared burden—renters and property owners with the ratio skewing more towards property owners. There are various ways to do that. You can look at fee increases [and] tax increases. The rent moratorium should continue as long as the public emergency is going. On the flip side, property owners do need income to maintain those properties, especially smaller property owners. Giving them some form of property tax credit to help alleviate their expense burden would help them extend a little longer not collecting [rent] from tenants.
Jayaraman: Whoever signed the contract is responsible for paying it and there should be a longer repayment term so no one has to pay more than 30 percent of their income to those overall rent payments.
Howard: I believe that D.C. needs to use the money that they receive from the tickets, the speeding cameras, and make an allotment to help the citizens of D.C. who are behind in rent and utilities.
Lazere: I think it would be a policy and [a] moral failure if anyone is evicted because they lost their job during the pandemic. I think the best solution is to ban evictions for people who got behind on rent through no fault of their own, and to back that up with an increase in funding for emergency rental assistance and a landlord relief fund.
Merrifield: The D.C. government has an obligation to keep people housed. The government was clear that people could not go to work in order to keep people safe. You can’t have people not going to work and then expect them to pay rent in the midst of global pandemic. There needs to be coordination between the government and landlords to make sure people are kept in place and anybody who’s lost income due to COVID-19 has their rent canceled.
Should the District expand its rent control law? What about the reclaim rent control platform?
Henderson: Yes, I’m supportive of expanding rent control laws. I think that we need to change the law so that buildings [built] before 2005 are included, and that it is tied to a dynamic date so that we always have an inventory that is coming in.
Orange: The District has just extended its rent control law for another 10 years, and I supported that extension … I have not thoroughly investigated [the reclaim rent control platform] but I am in favor of what Council just did. And they extended rent control for another 10 years.
Garcia: Rent control only goes so far. We need to have other measures to ensure people stay in place. So I am in support of rent control, and I think we should keep and expand the current legislation so that we can ensure that people stay in place in the District of Columbia.
Pickering: Absolutely not. These laws are well-intentioned and end up hurting the people that they are most supposed to help. In jurisdictions where this has happened, it’s driven out the middle class and left only the very wealthy and the very poor. I think rent control is a bad idea.
Goodwin: The District must reconsider rent control laws and ensure that we preserve rent control units and expand rent control units. However, I believe that they should and must be means-tested. We need to ensure that our neediest residents get access to those units.
Batchelor: Yes. I’m in full support of the Reclaim Rent Control platform. I’m most excited [that it] brings new units under our rent control program for the first time in three decades. I’m excited about also closing the loopholes. Reclaim Rent Control and legislation Councilmembers Trayon White and Brianne Nadeau introduced accomplish that goal, and my hope is that we pass it before the new year.
Scruggs: Yes. The city should expand the rent control law in areas where rates are going up exponentially higher than what people are making in income. In Wards 7 and 8, they’re placing apartments and condos in that area where most people cannot afford the rents. It’s a forced gentrification. We should expand rent control where it’s needed.
Cristaldo: Absolutely. The rent control laws we have need to be updated. For example, currently, rent control only applies to buildings built prior to 1975. We need to enhance that law [to include] all buildings built up to 2011, because in 2011 we started with the inclusionary zoning laws.
Gurley: The District needs to improve its rent control law. Currently rent is too high for working class, middle class, or even college graduates to afford. Currently 70 percent of the D.C. workforce is made up of workers who live outside of the city, which means that payroll taxes are being put into these other states.
Barragan: Yeah, I agree [with the Reclaim Rent Control platform]. Had it not been for rent control, I wouldn’t have been able to live in the District for as long as I have. One important thing to know about rent control, though: The Office of the Tenant Advocate was finalizing their inventory [of rent controlled units]. That has to come out first and has to be analyzed first in order to be very targeted in the language that we’re doing with rent control.
Silver: I would say yes. So now, I’m proposing that we need to put more money into public housing. And when you build these condos, we have to increase the ADUs, affordable dwelling units, that guarantees 18 to 25 percent of the people that are displaced can come back at a reduced rate through that new development.
Padro: Yes, rent control is an integral part of ensuring the continued availability of affordable housing in the District.
White: I support expanding rent control. But I can’t sign on to every aspect of the Reclaim Rent Control platform. We have to seriously look at means-testing rent control. And we always want to make sure there is a balance that does not cause us to see our rental units turned into luxury condos because maintaining a building does require funding. If there’s not funding to upkeep those buildings, they’ll become slums or they’ll get sold.
Lewis: Absolutely. I support the Reclaim Rent Control platform. Improving and expanding rent control is a core part of creating deeply affordable housing infrastructure. I’m particularly focused on permanently eradicating voluntary agreements in our rent control law, because it doesn’t create equity and affordability in our housing stock.
Palacio: Yes. I think our rent control laws are outdated and need to more aggressively be scaled to ensure rents do not skyrocket in the District. That is one avenue to preserve affordable housing. I am in support of the Reclaim Rent Control platform. At the core of the platform is ensuring more aggressive and more updated rent control laws and regulations.
Wilcox: Definitely. We support Reclaim Rent Control. The current law has far too many loopholes for landlords in terms of the substantial rehabilitation, voluntary agreements, the things that allow them to have their property deteriorate and then ask for rent increases to fix it up. Those loopholes need to be eliminated. Also we need to expand to include more recently built housing.
Bishop-Henchman: No. Rent control discourages construction of new housing. It discourages repairs to existing housing, and it doesn’t address the underlying problem of why housing is too expensive.
Rogers: Yes. Where I’m grappling is the middle ground between landlords and tenants, especially when it comes to transfers of property. Landlords use certain loopholes that need to be tightened to get around allowing tenants to sell their [Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act] rights to a third party.
Jayaraman: It should expand, but limit it to large apartment buildings that are corporately owned and not include buildings of 25 units or less.
Howard: Yes and no. I think that cost of living in D.C. is extremely high, and they do need more rent control, but as for a homeowner that purchased a home at $600,000, [they] need to be paid as well. So it’s a touchy situation.
Lazere: Absolutely. Rent control stabilizes families and stabilizes communities. Our law, because it covers only buildings before 1975, becomes more outdated every single year. There are other enormous problems, including loopholes in the voluntary agreement process that unscrupulous landlords have been taking advantage of. And I’m a supporter of the [Reclaim Rent Control] platform.
Merrifield: Yeah, it’s absolutely crucial that the District expand its rent control law. I support the Reclaim Rent Control platform, but I’m running on a broader platform, on a social housing platform to essentially create a public [housing] option for voters. [The model] removes developers from the equation entirely and creates truly affordable, mixed-income housing that actually pays for itself.
What does it mean to defund the police? And if the District further reduces the MPD budget, where should that money be directed?
Henderson: To me, [defunding the police means] moving from an overreliance on law enforcement to handle our public safety challenges and instead reinvesting that money in community solutions to prevent crime and violence. I’d like to see [the money] reinvested in community solutions around crime prevention. Why do we send MPD when someone calls 911 with a mental health emergency? Why are we not sending a critical response team from the Department of Behavioral Health?
Orange: I don’t know what it means to defund the police. There’s so many definitions. I’m in favor of a comprehensive review of MPD operations [and] methods that are outdated that should be taken off the books and no longer utilized. I’m in favor of training with the emphasis being the value of human life and training on how to bring an encounter under control without the loss of life.
Garcia: We can’t be talking about defunding the police in a way to make it sound like we’re not going to fund the police. Reimagining the police is what we talk about. The police force needs to reflect the population it serves. We could perhaps implement a situation where we could have a [4,000-officer] force but not employ everybody at the same time. The savings from the reduction [could be used] for a number of services that we need now, mental health in the schools, [and] subsidizing some of the housing challenges that we are talking about.
Pickering: I think defunding the police is pure folly. We have the best police force in the country and we have a police force that’s in a unique situation. In addition to the community policing that normal police forces do, our police force has to interact with other law enforcement agencies such as the Secret Service, the Park Police, the Capitol Police. I think our police deserve full funding and our full support.
Goodwin: My notion of reimagining policing means that whatever resources are necessary for a responsible, transparent, accountable police force is what we should be budgeting for. Right now, we are on track for beyond the decade high of homicides, so we certainly need public safety officers in our communities to keep people safe from the threat of gun violence. I also want us to increase investments in mental health, addiction treatment, and transitioning people into productive, healthy lifestyles.
Batchelor: Defunding the police starts with the premise that public safety doesn’t start or end with the police department. If we don’t tackle the root causes of violence and crime in our community—issues rooted in poverty and disinvestment—we’ll never be truly safe. I’m in support of defunding the police and spending more on programs related to youth, job training, and mental health.
Scruggs: I don’t believe we should defund the police because it will have the opposite effect of what we desire. What we desire, as citizens, is to have a presence in our communities that makes us feel safe. Right now, police sit there in the street and watch crime happen. Any money allocated away from the police department should go into mental health services, housing, and education.
Cristaldo: I think we’re headed in the right direction. We were able to get $5 million out, but I believe we need to recalculate. We need MPD to do community policing. This issue of going out, attacking protesters, it really bothers me. We need to demilitarize MPD. We need to train our officers to do community policing in our neighborhoods.
Gurley: There should be no attempts to defund the police department. We do not have enough policemen to take care of 705,000 residents. The police department does need the assistance of social workers, social programs, for those types of calls when someone is having a psychotic episode. We need more police presence in the communities.
Barragan: The defund-the-police ask is something I can’t define because I didn’t ask for that. I want police reform, which includes defunding police as one of the tools. We should definitely defund old traditional training. We should definitely defund any incentives that new hires are getting who are not from the District, [and] we should definitely defund the extra funding that’s being attached to doing more recruiting outside of the city.
Silver: Instead of defunding the police, we need to redirect funding to a civilian complaint review board. We’ve got civilian complaint review boards in place, but they’re underfunded. In addition to public safety, we need to create or develop an ombudsman to further investigate police complaints. I’m not one to throw the police under the bus. They’re doing a heck of a job.
Padro: Modest transfers of the funding of the MPD budget to other programs that allow non-officers to respond to a variety of calls for service would be warranted, but not the wholesale reduction in the number of officers available.
White: The money from MPD’s budget should be directed to existing or newly created agencies that are better equipped to handle many of the non-public safety things that MPD has jurisdiction over now, like traffic violations and mental health issues.
Lewis: Our safety doesn’t start and end with the police. It’s important to decrease the outsized police budget and reinvest in programs and infrastructure that create genuine safety for our community. We need a citywide conversation—convening residents from different wards/neighborhoods and experts who don’t always agree on the solutions, but agree we need safer communities—to reimagine what safety looks like and for all of us to buy into creating that so we rely less on police.
Palacio: To me, defunding police is a call for District residents to feel safe at the hands of their government, and it means redirecting resources away from traditional policing to more effective crisis intervention programs. That means more money in mental health response teams, drug and alcohol counseling, and trained professionals who can de-escalate domestic violence situations.
Wilcox: Defunding is an important trend. Money should be redirected to mental health, counseling services, and youth interventions. Traffic enforcement can be done by other units. We also need to enforce the NEAR Act [so] that statistics on things like stop and frisk are kept and released.
Bishop-Henchman: [They] should do a lot of training on de-escalating conflicts and buying less military-style equipment. [Defunding the police means] reducing or stopping purchases of military-style equipment and making sure that we’re focused on de-escalating conflict.
Rogers: I don’t believe in defunding the police. The issue we need to solve is that the police department enforces our criminal code [which is] skewed towards crimes of poverty. I’d call for a systemic review of our criminal code so that it reflects our community values—decriminalizing marijuana and sex workers. [Then] you no longer have [officers] policing neighborhoods the way they’re currently policing. They’re more freed up to solve some of our more systemic criminal elements.
Jayaraman: I think we need to look at what we call on our officers to do and determine what their core functions are, and then examine a level of budget for those core functions. We ask them to do too much. Any savings should go to social service agencies to provide services in off hours.
Howard: I don’t believe in defunding the police. I believe that there should be a community group effort like the ANC that have a small group that goes out to handle minor complaints. I do believe that there are problems within the police department, and if they were to reallocate some of that money, I will suggest that they put it into having more mental health awareness.
Lazere: Defunding starts with thinking about approaching public safety in a different way. It means reducing our police force and shifting functions that police currently provide to other agencies like the Department of Behavioral Health and directly reinvesting that in things that keep communities stable and safe, like after-school programs, job training, mental health services, and affordable housing.
Merrifield: Defunding the police means defunding militarized police tactics that I do not believe keep our community safer and reallocating that spending to housing, mental health resources, violence interruption, jobs, and education. Short term, we have to interrupt violence, and I think that’s most effectively done by funding community organizations on the ground. Long term investment should be mental health, housing, education, and jobs. If you invest in those things, I think crime will be exceedingly minimal.
List three of the most needed police reforms in D.C.
Henderson: One, I would say, is a need for a standard as it relates to use of force and contact with juveniles. [MPD officers] treat 13-year-olds [like] they’re fully grown adults. Another thing is stopping stop and frisk. We know that it’s disproportionately impacting Black and Brown communities and it is not resulting in a corresponding decrease in crime. And the third one is around data. The Council has taken a little bit of this on, changing the body worn camera laws and regulations, and I support that becoming permanent.
Orange: [One] of the reforms is a training on the value of human life, and how to bring an encounter under control without that loss of life. Two, there needs to be a retooling of community policing in light of what has been taking place all over this country. We should be examining these situations—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Arbery’s case—so we are learning lessons from these incidents, so we can be in a better position to address issues without causing a chaotic response that also erupts our communities. Third, more community engagement.
Garcia: The police [department] needs to reflect the population that it serves, so we need more diversity in the force. We need to look at internal processes and ensure we compensate [police officers] not for writing more tickets, but for attending more community events. Body cameras are great. We should ensure we have other accountability measures like that.
Pickering: There’s room for improvement in every human organization. [But] I haven’t studied police procedures in sufficient detail to make credible recommendations. One thing we could do is try to make it more attractive for our police force to live in town, whether that’s allowing people to buy homes with no down payments or especially low interest loans.
Goodwin: One, immediate access to bodycam footage. Two, public accessibility of police officer records of reported abuse and disciplinary actions, and three, banning chokeholds.
Batchelor: To a certain extent, we have to put an end to qualified immunity in our city. Second, so many reforms in the temporary legislation that the Council passed should be passed permanently, including a limit on non-lethal munitions like pepper spray and rubber bullets. Third, the way we engage with communities. If we’re not willing to put as much energy into breaking that chain of illegal guns that flow into our borders, then we have to think differently about how we approach the hands they end up in.
Scruggs: One, we need a new police administration. Change starts at the top. From what Chief [Peter] Newsham has said recently, with the death of Deon Kay, trying to label him as a gangbanger, as if his life meant less because of his alleged activity, that’s not the type of leadership we need. Two, a redistribution of police officers into areas where police are part of the racial and ethnic backgrounds of the communities they’re serving. Three, D.C. police need to live in the city.
Cristaldo: Starting from the police academy, we need to review all of the police training they do to train in community policing. We need to reconfigure the number of police officers we really need for the size of the District. They’re over-equipped in so many ways. There are too many police cars. We need to hold them accountable about what they’re really doing.
Gurley: We need to increase the police department with the needed officers to serve the residents in the District of Columbia. We need to have our officers living in the District. We need to reinstate the police cadet and firefighter cadet programs in our high schools. Those cadets, once they become officers and firefighters, will know their community and give a greater assurance of safety.
Barragan: Training for sure. [We need to reform] IT funding—the [crime] mapping and what information is provided to community leaders and community members. Right now, they have very little funding for engagement. So reduce some of the IT stuff that’s useless and invest more in engagement. We also need more police officers who speak various languages. They haven’t done a good job in making sure that the police force represents 20 percent of the population, which is immigrant, so 20 percent of the police force should be immigrant.
Silver: Increase hiring from the D.C. metropolitan area. We need sensitivity training. These people gotta be sensitized that if you’re coming into D.C., we’ve got a unique population, so you’ve got to have everybody on the same page. And finally, the officers with high seniority, I’m not saying (they should) be rotated out of the system, but after you’ve been on the police force 15, and certainly 20, years, you need to be rotated out of the live action.
Padro: New guidelines restricting the use of force, the interactions with minors, and high-speed vehicle pursuits.
White: Get the police department out of non-public safety issues, demilitarizing police, and more transparency.
Lewis: They’ve been addressed in recent, passed legislation, but we need deeper reforms on a larger scale. In addition to what’s already proposed, reducing qualified immunity for police officers would be the reform I’d push most heavily. Reducing that not only for MPD, but also looking at other police officers who have D.C. jurisdiction. Rep. Ayanna Pressley has advanced federal legislation to reduce qualified immunity. We need to engage Rep. [Eleanor Holmes] Norton in supporting that.
Palacio: In addition to what the Council has done, I think we need a multi-jurisdictional clearinghouse to ensure that officers with a record of using lethal force inappropriately are not allowed to work in the District. We need to increase resources for officers trained to work with more vulnerable communities. I mean young ages 14 to 25, LGBTQ communities, faith minority communities, and neighborhoods with high concentrations of crime.
Wilcox: End stop and frisk and surprise jump-outs. Reduce the overall militarization of the police—military equipment [and] militarized interventions into neighborhoods. The third would be using alternative techniques, such as mental health counseling or violence interrupters, much more heavily in terms of how you intervene into a neighborhood, not rolling in with a lot of militarized equipment.
Bishop-Henchman: Ending qualified immunity, relying more on community-based efforts, and stopping the purchase of military-style equipment.
Rogers: We need to re-engage community policing. I believe officers need to understand their communities. Second, if we move towards lessening police involvement in low-level crimes, then the need for some special tactical units should be reshuffled. Finally, more transparency. The people of the D.C. deserve to know when officers violate whatever standards of procedures we have.
Jayaraman: Initiatives to expand the trust between the police and the community, retraining some officers to be de-escalators—the people who get the first shot at de-escalating should be unarmed officers, faster release of body-worn camera video unless the family asks that it not be released.
Howard: I think one of the areas is to be aware of your community. They do need to be reformed in community awareness. And they do need to be reformed as far as mental health issues. And the third one is de-escalating situations.
Lazere: One, make officers responsible for intervening when another officer is engaged in inappropriate treatment of residents. Two, [the Office of Police Complaints] currently can only make recommendations of discipline, leaving final decisions to MPD. Instead, OPC recommendations should be binding. Three, completely ban use of tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters.
Merrifield: We need to eliminate jump-out squads. An unmarked car pulling up and a bunch of plainclothes cops jumping out and throwing kids up against a wall and patting them down is one of the most disturbing things I’ve witnessed. The way police treat juveniles needs to be reformed, especially within the Metro Transit system. I would support the current reforms made with respect to body camera footage being released and maybe call for ways to increase transparency through investigations of improper conduct.
What is your vision and legislative strategy for helping the small independent restaurants that make up D.C.’s dining scene survive and thrive once again?
Henderson: The weatherization grants will be helpful in some cases. But I do think that the city writ large needs to consider doing a local version of the Paycheck Protection Program to help some small businesses get through this time, especially if we don’t think that another round of federal relief is going to happen for businesses.
Orange: I would be in favor of tax incentives, grants, whatever it takes to get small businesses up and operating again. One, we need to get our D.C. residents back to work. Two, we need our small businesses to generate income, which is subject to D.C. taxation. And three, getting the District back to where it was. We were becoming one of the pride cities of the United States for our restaurants and our being able to enjoy what’s taking place on our Wharf and our neighborhoods.
Garcia: We need to ensure that we have all the grants they need, so they can [provide] adequate PPE to give to employees. We need to think about the transportation for the employees. I’m getting too many calls from people saying, “Sometimes it’s not worth it for me to get downtown to my job because paying all my money to Uber.” We need to partner with Uber or anybody else to provide safe transportation to and from work.
Pickering: We ought to look at measures immediately to allow our restaurants and small businesses to safely reopen. I think restaurants and bars need some insurance relief from the liabilities associated with COVID-19. I think we can give increased payouts for business interruption insurance, perhaps have a rent moratorium or a delay in sales tax payments or some sort of tax abatement to allow these people to survive.
Goodwin: I would support expanded grant and loan funding, in addition to a sensible regulatory regime that supports rather than antagonizes our small local entrepreneurs to ensure that they are able to provide their communities with their diverse offerings and continue to employ and serve in making the District a rich hub of cuisine and culture.
Batchelor: Many restaurants will have to retrofit their spaces to accommodate new public health rules. Some [will] have to completely change their business model and retrain employees. Making sure the government does all we can to support that work. Helping businesses with overhead also means making sure all businesses are able to provide their employees with personal protective equipment for as long as they need it.
Scruggs: D.C. just has to pump money into our economies, especially where small restaurants are concerned. We need to make sure grants are going to the people who need them and that we’re [streamlining] the processes for getting those loans. It’s real out here.
Cristaldo: The federal government owes us from the last round [of relief funding]. And again, [use] the rainy day funds. My understanding is that it is close to $1.4 billion. It’s money that we didn’t use, that is dedicated to special funding in case of an emergency situation, and this is an emergency situation. We should direct money to them from the fund.
Gurley: Once we get over this pandemic, there will be small business loans for those who want to go into business. D.C. is a tourist city. We should give small loans to entrepreneurs that want to support tourism. As a councilmember, I would request federal funding in the form of a FEMA loan. We have to prioritize residents, medical needs, and police presence first. What’s left, then, can go to small business.
Barragan: Legislatively, right now we’re giving a lot of grants, but we’re not necessarily giving resources. I have a small business. It’s not a restaurant, it’s a technical service business. And the grants are very blanketed. And they don’t come with specific resources that are needed. It’s just money. Resources like accounting, resources like marketing, resources like legal assistance. Those are really important.
Silver: We’ve gotta put some funding in place for the waiters and waitresses whose hours have been cut back. A lot of these people don’t have backup funding or large bank accounts. Some restaurants are surviving with this outdoor seating, but that’s going to be shut down when the weather changes. We’ve got to bail these restaurants out. We have the money, we have the funding. It’s gotta come from the coffers of the D.C. government.
Padro: Establishing a retail property tax cap that limits the collection of commercial property taxes to the percentage of space that can be occupied by customers for the balance of the pandemic. Provide subsidies and tax incentives for restaurants to provide discounted and free meals as has been done in other cities.
White: We have to continue with forgivable loans for restaurants to create infrastructure to extend outdoor eating. Start into the winter months as much as possible. We’re going to have to use the city’s financial leverage to to assist establishments and make it through the winter months.
Lewis: Small businesses are the lifeblood of our city. I’ve proposed a mini-bond program—selling municipal bonds to individuals, modeled after one used in Denver. This is an opportunity for us to generate revenue from local residents, like myself, whose income has remained relatively stable. I’d target this revenue to small businesses left out of federal assistance programs. We know many of those are owned by people of color and women.
Palacio: My vision is a restaurant and nightlife industry that has the protective gear needed to keep workers and customers safe. And my legislative strategy is we have to continue to invest in small grants and small loans so that small restaurants and local businesses can adapt, whether that is physical structure or takeout only or combining services in a way that reduces
Wilcox: The carryout model has been helpful. We need to gradually reopen, and expand streeteries. I think that’s a good way to help them have actual income and not just handouts. But it’s a balance. Gradual outdoor dining is the way to go. Tents with open ends and some heater lamps to keep everyone comfortable to try to make it last at least into late fall.
Bishop-Henchman: We should keep the to-go liquor change[s]. And honestly, we should consider keeping the sidewalk dining changes as well. We put a lot of regulatory and tax burdens on the hospitality industry. And I think now more than ever is a time to revisit some of those and see what can be taken off their plate.
Rogers: The city needs to extend a local [Paycheck Protection Program] to the hospitality industry. We need to give them grants so they can get the proper equipment to utilize the space. The mayor’s office has already done [this], but I would expand it. Where we have the ability to use public space effectively to give restaurants additional occupant load so that they can generate some income, we need to do that. That’s all predicated on the data coming out of the Department of Health.
Jayaraman: In the short run, we should take the [Business Improvement District] taxes that businesses pay and repurpose those to provide grants to small businesses that are in desperate need of help. In the long run, it’s reimagining what dining looks like. And we should be open to a more European model that allows for greater use of our public space for dining, especially on weekends.
Howard: There needs to be some type of emergency funding allocated towards the restaurants, especially small business owners, to make sure that their restaurants stay afloat, and they’re able to keep a staff. I fear that once the weather comes and the flu spikes up and the COVID resurges that it’s going to be hard to do outdoor or indoor dining. They just need more funding.
Lazere: To me, [getting our hospitality sector back with full strength] includes continued support for safe dining practices like doing more to give restaurants space outdoors. When I talk to small business owners, including restaurants, they say the biggest challenge they face is rent. So I think we just need to do a similar eviction ban, as I think we should do for residents, which is to say small businesses can’t be evicted if they got behind in rent in the pandemic because business was reduced.
Merrifield: I think it’s essential that [small businesses] have access to capital post-pandemic and that it’s done in a way that’s not too bureaucratic. That’s why I’m proposing a jobs program. If people [who’ve been laid off] can be reemployed, they can then spend that money back into the restaurant scene and other small businesses. We need a capital injection into small businesses, but the District has the responsibility to put people back to work.
Taking into consideration the public health emergency and the digital divide, construct the ideal learning environment for D.C. students.
Henderson: I think the ideal learning environment varies based on age. [PK4], [PK3], for kindergarten, first grade students, the ideal situation [is] to figure out a way for small, in-person instruction. For older students, it’s not an ideal situation, but I do feel that they can weather this. I would also add that for special education students, I feel like they have a specific need that virtual learning is not meeting right now. Ideally, I think it’s differentiated by age and by need.
Orange: The ideal learning environment for D.C. students is one that can be done if distanced learning continues to be what we have to do or return to the classroom. At the bare minimum every school-aged child needs a laptop, access to internet, PPE, and a good safe learning environment when school reopens. That would be [the] Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] protocol safe learning environments.
Garcia: So we have a big challenge in education in the District of Columbia, and this isn’t because of COVID-19. It has simply [been] exacerbated because of the pandemic. We need to ensure that every neighborhood has a first-class school that they can go to. The idea of school choice, it’s good, and it’s been a good temporary solution for our city.
Pickering: The children have not been shown to be an at-risk population when it comes to COVID. I think we ought to open our schools as quickly as we safely can. The other thing we ought to look at is the whole management of our public school bureaucracy. We’ve got the same number of bureaucrats sitting in offices downtown as teachers who are not doing a good job teaching our students to do grade-level work.
Goodwin: I have long talked about the need for before- and after-school program funding. I know from my personal experience that investments in athletics, musical arts, visual arts, and extracurricular programs can dramatically transform the lives of our students. In addition to ensuring that there are fair and equitable resources within the classrooms for them to learn effectively.
Batchelor: We must aggressively close the digital divide—getting families and young people devices, access to the internet, the literacy to use those devices most productively, [and] technical support for teachers and families. [We need] aggressive investment, diligent oversight, and replacement and repairs of HVAC systems inside our schools, updating infrastructure inside buildings, bringing educators and families to the table to walk through what a return to the classroom looks like.
Scruggs: Creating more of a bubble inside the classroom, where we’re forcibly putting in air and taking out air. We have to monitor students’ temperatures to make sure there are no spikes. We need to ensure that there are partitions between students so the risk of transmission is less. And we need to put them in a position where they’ll be able to interact within reason and have access to Wi-Fi [and] computers.
Cristaldo: In the short term, I think we should keep doing it online, unfortunately. We’re not ready to send our kids back to school. It’s known, proven by scientists, that anyone can spread the virus. Until we find the real solution and cure for the virus, we need to be proactive in keeping our kids safe more than anything else.
Gurley: Every student in D.C. public schools must have and will have a computer to conduct their classes and learning. I promise them as a councilmember to provide one-on-one classes to students who may be faltering, who need assistance to catch up, or to just maintain their learning.
Barragan: I’m going to construct it based on immigrant students. If we look at their needs, every other student in the District, wealthy or not, White, Black, any other race will also benefit. We need more tutoring for students whose parents don’t have the educational base to assist them in virtual learning. We need to provide more relief in terms of funding for the other needs that have come because of virtual learning, like buying furniture, buying supplies, additional internet or apps that they need, or even paying for tutoring.
Silver: Quite frankly, when these young adults by and large come from inner city homes, I’m not trying to put a stigma on anybody, but it’s pretty well documented, they’re probably not going to go to Harvard or Yale. So I’m a staunch advocate [for increasing] vocational training. Let’s teach these guys and women some skills before they get out of high school, either in plumbing, [electrical work], horticulture.
Padro: Until a vaccine is available to allow the full resumption of normal, in-class instruction, the District government should provide the necessary devices and internet access to be able to ensure that all students can conduct distance learning.
White: The digital divide should not, and need not, be there. We have to close that divide. We have to have availability for in-person learning for students with special learning needs and for at-risk students that don’t have support at home. And online instruction has to be consistent, strong, and offer mental health support.
Lewis: I’ve proposed following a model from other cities—using unused buses as Wi-Fi hubs to be parked in areas with less access. We need to provide protective equipment so that we can reopen schools as quickly and safely as possible. In the long term, we need to fund our schools properly and equitably. Finally, we have schools [with] empty space in the building. We can make better use of that property by including community resources within the school building that students and families need.
Palacio: The ideal learning environment depends on the student and the family. For some schools, I think a hybrid model is ideal so that some students can come back most of the time. For students with the greatest need, whose families need a safe place for the student to learn, we should open the schools that are ready to open. But we have to follow the science, listen to the school leaders, and listen to the needs of the students and the families.
Wilcox: Digital is still the safest, most effective way. We need to make sure students and families have the devices and Wi-Fi they need. Then, gradually, we can start to bring small groups back, probably starting with younger children. I don’t think we need to rush it, though there is a sort of social determinant to keeping children home.
Bishop-Henchman: We need a lot more on virtual learning in the interim, until we can get schools reopened. And it’s a real opportunity to make it decentralized and offer different approaches for different students. I think the school board has an opportunity to offer tailored packages of a whole bunch of different kinds to parents who really need them and want them right now.
Rogers: For this school year, I think the hybrid model is probably the best, with tiering up to more in-person learning towards the end of the semester. I’d charge the superintendent with figuring out how you can create pods to limit exposure. Assuming a vaccine is more available, I’d extend [the 2021] school year into the summer to get [students] used to being back at school, [and] get some of that educational stuff they lost back.
Jayaraman: One that offers both an in-school and online option that parents could choose from. In-school would allow for classes outside, social distancing, and air circulation. As an 18-year emergency planner, I currently do this for child-care centers. We can apply similar strategies to elementary schools.
Howard: As far as going back into the classrooms right now, I don’t deem it safe. The ideal situation is, for one, D.C. making sure that the free internet access is available throughout the whole city. I would also try to get study groups to help those students that are falling behind. And I would slowly work to integrate the kids back into the classroom setting, first making sure that all the schools have been thoroughly cleaned and COVID ready.
Lazere: I would like to see aggressive public health actions to control the level of the virus in our community as a key to reopening schools in-person. We need to support families with the technology and access to high speed internet so that every single student has the opportunity to not worry about whether they’re going to be able to log into class on a given day.
Merrifield: I think we have to talk to teachers about that. I don’t want to get ahead of people who are experts in the field. But what is essential is that technology is provided, so that kids can have the opportunity to be plugged in and access this new world we’re in. Ending that technology divide, which is directly on racial lines, is essential.
Yes or No Questions
Collecting 25,000 signatures from a representative group of Washingtonians to get an initiative on a ballot is a feat of strength and funding under normal circumstances. Decriminalize Nature DC was able to do it during a global pandemic with help from a compassionate spokesperson, Melissa Lavasani, and a fat check of more than $500,000 from a political action committee whose donors include Dr. Bronner’s natural soap company.
Initiative 81, or the “Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act of 2020,” does not legalize the use and possession of so-called “magic mushrooms,” which contain a chemical compound called psilocybin. Nor does it legalize the use and possession of the other psychedelic plants included in the ballot initiative, among them cacti, iboga, and ayahuasca. The measure only seeks to make entheogens among the lowest law enforcement priorities for the Metropolitan Police Department, so it’s somewhat symbolic in nature. It also calls upon the D.C. Attorney General and U.S. Attorney for D.C. to cease prosecution of criminal charges involving entheogens.
Lavasani proposed the initiative to change the conversation around psychedelic plants and focus on their potentially beneficial medical properties. Researchers around the country are examining how entheogens can treat anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health conditions.
A D.C. government employee, Lavasani says psilocybin may have saved her life after she suffered from postpartum depression in 2018. “After I delivered, I spiraled out of control,” she says, describing her experiences with anxiety, panic attacks, delusions, and suicidal thoughts. Then, a friend recommended she tune in to an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience that featured mycologist Paul Stamets as a guest. He addressed the health benefits of psilocybin.
“I made a life-or-death decision,” Lavasani says. “I can break the law and try this or lose my life. Thank god I did. Within three days of microdosing [mushrooms], I was feeling human again. I was walking differently, talking differently, playing with my kids, and communicating with my husband.” (Microdosing, in this context, generally means consuming very low, sub-hallucinogenic doses of a psychedelic substance.)
Ultimately, Lavasani says her goal is to “allow people to heal themselves without taking a risk on getting caught in the war on drugs.” She imagines a D.C. where patients can consume entheogens in controlled situations under the careful consultation of doctors or therapists. Cities that have decriminalized psychedelics include Oakland and Santa Cruz in California as well as Denver.
The District’s status as a non-state will stymie Decriminalize Nature DC’s broader efforts for the time being. After Republican Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland sponsored budget riders to prevent D.C. from using its own funds to create a tax-and-regulate system for marijuana between 2014 and 2018, Congress also prohibited D.C. from decriminalizing or legalizing Schedule I drugs, which include psychedelics.
Harris told the Washington Post in August that he hopes “voters of D.C. will exercise their common sense and reject this initiative.”
“I didn’t want to talk about Andy Harris,” Lavasani quips. “He’s tried to stop our initiative.”
Other than Harris, however, Lavasani says she hasn’t seen much opposition to Initiative 81. She’s optimistic it will pass based on polling completed in August by FM3 Research that shows 60 percent of 620 likely voters support the measure.
“All it takes is a little education,” Lavasani says. “Everyone is fed up with our health care system and the fake solutions presented to us. Momentum is growing, but we have a lot of educating to do.” —Laura Hayes
A New Resident’s Guide to Voting
If fall 2020 had a word of the season, “Vote,” with a capital V, would be it. An increasingly popular social media hashtag, it’s been used by thousands, including many celebrities, to urge followers to get out and, well, vote. Designers are making face masks adorned with the word, and nearly every clothing brand has a limited-run item encouraging people to go to the polls this Election Day.
Many of us can’t wait to do just that. But with the coronavirus pandemic still raging through the country (and the White House), this year’s already-high-stakes election is going to look a little different. For new D.C. residents who—like myself—moved to the city in the midst of a pandemic, figuring out how to vote can be trickier than driving around Dupont Circle.
Despite best-laid plans, making an arrangement to vote isn’t always as simple as a quick Google search. I can attest. After spending a morning searching for answers and reaching out to friends who’ve voted in D.C. for a decade, I still had questions. I’m a devout early voter—in Austin, where I lived and reported previously, I always took advantage of the option (who likes waiting in line?). But the early voting section of the D.C. Board of Elections’ website omitted some crucial information new voters might want to know: Do I need to vote in my ward during early voting? What about at the location specified on my voter registration card?
I reached out to DCBOE’s Public Information Officer Nick Jacobs for answers. He confirms: “You can vote at any center in the city,” during both early voting, which begins on Tuesday, Oct. 27, and on Election Day, Nov. 3.
Jacobs also confirmed my suspicions that this election will look different. D.C. does not usually supply residents with unrequested absentee or mail-in ballots like the ones many of us have already received. This year, however, DCBOE shipped ballots to every registered voter in the District as part of its COVID-19 safety precautions. “We’re encouraging as many people as possible to take advantage of that mailed ballot,” Jacobs says. “When that ballot arrives, voting starts.”
Upon completion, residents can drop their ballots in any of the 55 drop boxes throughout the city, often in libraries and police stations. (Visit DCBOE.org for a list of all locations.) If folks prefer handing their ballot to a person, they can choose to deliver them to voting centers once they open. DCBOE’s early voting page lists more than 30 locations, including Super Vote Centers intended to accommodate large voter turnout. Jacobs says D.C. residents looking to vote in-person should take advantage of the city’s extended voting period in an effort to avoid crowds, an understandable desire considering the ongoing pandemic.
If the president’s fearmongering has you, like me, concerned about voting by mail, DCBOE has taken a series of precautions to ensure ballots will be counted and not tampered with. From now through 8 p.m. on Nov. 3, ballots deposited in drop boxes will be collected twice daily. “We’re doing everything we can to ensure those drop boxes are in safe and secure locations,” Jacobs says. While it’s a felony to vote twice in an election, Jacobs says stopgaps are in place to ensure that if someone submits a ballot by mail and then decides to vote on Election Day, their vote won’t be counted twice thanks to signature verification. Voters will also be able to track their ballots online as DCBOE processes them.
Those absolutely committed to voting on Election Day will be able to do so, but should expect a wait. “The reality is that there will be lines,” Jacobs says. “Part of that has to do with interest, part of that has to do with the precautions we’re taking.” After each use, every voting machine will be disinfected. Masks and social distancing will also be required as additional COVID-19 safety measures. Super voting centers, like those at Capital One Arena and Nationals Park, will be laid out to avoid bottlenecking in order to keep people 6 feet apart, with separate lines available for folks dropping off mail-in ballots. “It’s going to take some time. That’s why we wanted to make that mail-in option available,” Jacobs explains.
The last day to register online or by mail is Oct. 13, but according to DCBOE’s website, if someone who’s lived in D.C. for at least 30 days immediately prior to the election misses the deadline, there is an option to register at voting centers. To do so, would-be voters must provide acceptable proof of residence showing their name and District address.
Jacobs urges voters who’ve received ballots to fill them out and drop them off as soon as possible. “Don’t let it gather any dust,” he urges. The numbers are going to be high. We want to be sure that everyone’s voice is heard, so vote early.” —Sarah Marloff