What's in store for an Election Day in the midst of a pandemic?

What's in store for an Election Day in the midst of a pandemic?

What does Election Day look like during a pandemic? How are voters feeling about the local and national elections? What can voters expect when they cast their ballots? We’ll hear from DCist’s Elliot Williams, who is spending Election Day reporting from D.C. voting locations.

Produced by Inés Rénique



  • 12:00:03

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast we'll check in with local food banks to see how they're holding up eight months into the pandemic and what they're planning for the holidays. But first Election Day is finally here, millions voted early and by mail here in our region, but thousands are still voting in-person today heading to polling places to get their votes in. DCist reporter Elliot Williams joins us now from Northeast Washington to tell us what he's seeing. Hey, Elliot, how are you doing?

  • 12:00:36

    ELLIOT WILLIAMSI'm doing all right, Kojo. Thanks for having me.

  • 12:00:39

    NNAMDIGood to hear from you. We'd like to hear from you too. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Elliot, you've been reporting from across Northeast Washington. What polling stations have you been to this morning and what are you seeing?

  • 12:00:53

    WILLIAMSYeah. So I started off at Turkey Thicket Recreation Center at 9:30 and I made my way over to Union Market around 10:30. And, you know, when I got there, there were actually more volunteers and campaign signs than voters. But, you know, I still found a few folks that are casting their ballot before work or in between a break. A lot of the people I spoke to, the poll workers said, you know, the rush came around 7:00 a.m. when they opened up.

  • 12:01:25

    NNAMDIWere there any long lines anywhere that you went?

  • 12:01:29

    WILLIAMSNo, actually. I didn't see any long lines. I did, however, see a band -- a marching band outside of Union Market. They say they're with Daybreaker and Pizza to the Polls giving out free food to voters. So there were about 3,000 people that voted here early this morning. And then anyone who was -- you know, around 10:00 a.m. was met with this funky upbeat band to bring liveliness to the polls.

  • 12:01:57

    NNAMDIThat's what D.C. is all about.

  • 12:01:59


  • 12:02:00

    NNAMDIYou've been talking to people since early this morning. One of the people you spoke with at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center was voter Regina Tatum who was there with her two kids. Here's a clip from that interview with her and why she's out voting today.

  • 12:02:16

    REGINA TATUMMost of my family and friends have voted early voting, but for me today is Election Day so that's why I came today. I didn't want to do early voting. And as we see in the news how they've been trying to throw out early ballots, it was important for me to come on the actual Election Day.

  • 12:02:35

    NNAMDIAnd, Elliot, was it also important for her to bring her kids?

  • 12:02:39

    WILLIAMSAbsolutely. She brought her two 20-year-old twins who have both voted before. But they said that this election was important especially as people of color in D.C. The son, he mentioned seeing a lot of people at the front of Turkey Thicket, campaigners, volunteers, who clearly had a lot to say and wanted their voices heard.

  • 12:03:02

    NNAMDIHere is Anthony in Annandale, Virginia. Anthony, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:03:07

    ANTHONYThanks for having. I just wanted to say two things really quick. I found it interesting. I actually voted early about a week ago here in Annandale. And I just so happened to be out and about and I passed the polling location around the George Mason area. And I actually didn't really see much line at all. So I kind of found it interesting that it actually took me two hours to vote early. But when I just passed this polling location, there was really no one there.

  • 12:03:38

    NNAMDISo had you waited until today, you wouldn't have had to wait at all. But you wanted to vote early, why? Because of COVID-19 precautions?

  • 12:03:46

    ANTHONYYeah. Exactly. I didn't want to take any chance just in case. And I unfortunately did not really want to mail-in a ballot. So I said, Okay, well, if I'm going to go in-person, I'd rather go early so there's not as many people. But sure enough that was actually the wrong decision. So it was very interesting to me.

  • 12:04:03

    NNAMDIWell, thank you very much for sharing that with us, Anthony. You too can share your story with us at 800-433-8850. What was voting like for you this time around? Did you have any issues? 800-433-8850. Elliot, what have COVID safety precautions looked like at the polling locations you visited?

  • 12:04:25

    WILLIAMSThey've been pretty great actually. I've seen a lot of social distancing. You know, there are markers on the ground where people are supposed to stand. All of the volunteers and the site coordinators I've seen have worn masks, had hand sanitizer ready. One site coordinator actually had goggles on, which I thought was great. And I wanted to get a pair myself. But, yeah, so far it's been great. You know, as the caller just mentioned there haven't been that many people in line, which is actually, you know, obviously great for social distancing. And it's been pretty quiet.

  • 12:04:57

    NNAMDIEarly voting is breaking records nationwide. What were early voting numbers in our area? And do we know how those are affecting the turnout today? Our earlier caller seemed to indicate that it's affecting the turnout significantly.

  • 12:05:13

    WILLIAMSYeah, certainly. So, you know, in D.C. nearly 81,000 people voted in-person early. So maybe he was caught up in some of those lines. But there were also over 200,000 people who voted by mail. And then similarly in Maryland 2.2 million people voted early. That's combined mail-in and in-person. Whereas in Virginia 1.8 million voted early in-person. And another, you know, around 940,000 voted by mail-in. So that, you know, makes up a significant portion of the voters. You know, about 99 million people across the country have voted early. That makes up 78 percent of the entire voter population in 2016. So we're already far ahead in terms of who's cast their ballot. And there are obviously still people voting today.

  • 12:06:04

    NNAMDIHere now is Jamie in Columbia, Maryland. Jamie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:06:10

    JAMIEHi, Kojo. Nice to be here. I voted early and I used mail-in voting. And one of the things that I was grateful for was our ability to track the ballots, because I did it early enough. I could track it and see when it was accepted and counted. And that made it easier for me to if something went wrong I could always go and fix it. So that was -- the ballot tracking for me was one of the main reasons why I voted by mail.

  • 12:06:45

    NNAMDIOh, cool. So you know that your vote will be counted.

  • 12:06:47

    JAMIEI know -- yes, exactly. It tells you on the ballot, when it says accepted and it explains what that means that it has been counted. So, you know, and it shows you who you voted for and what your district is. So it's really valuable.

  • 12:07:06

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your comment, Jamie. We move on now to Trisha in Washington D.C. Trisha, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:07:14

    TRISHAHi, there. Well, my comment is very much related. I mailed mine in like the first or second day I was able to mail it in. I did not put a postage on it. But I did track it and the post office said it was accepted there, but it was in route to the Board of Elections. And it's still not accepted there. And I'm concerned.

  • 12:07:40

    NNAMDIDo you have any idea why it was not accepted?

  • 12:07:44

    TRISHAIt just says not available. When it says, you know, whether it's processed or not, it says not available. So I'm just not quite sure. And not just for me, but for other people that might have mailed in and maybe not put postage on the envelope.

  • 12:08:04

    NNAMDIWell, that's interesting, because they were saying that there were some people who's mail-in ballots were questionable, because the signature that was on the mail-in ballot did not match the signature that the Board of Elections had. Elliot, have you been hearing anything about that?

  • 12:08:22

    WILLIAMSNo. But, you know, I did hear something interesting from Prince George's County actually where our colleague Jordan was. And he showed up early to a site where he met a voter, who had voted there last time, last election and it was closed. And similarly a lot of people showed up in Prince George's and, you know, were turned away or didn't have the open polls that they were expected and had to find another and only 41 were open. So there was sort of a last minute audible they apparently weren't aware of.

  • 12:08:54

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. What does in-person voting look like where you live? We'd like to know. Give us a call 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to kojo@wamu.org. Elliot, there are a lot of factors to account for this year including the pandemic. So do we know why some people decided to vote in-person on Election Day? Were they similar to the person you interviewed with her two sons?

  • 12:09:22

    WILLIAMSCertainly. There was some people that saw the early voting numbers and knew that they would be, you know, not in a line and be able to vote pretty quickly. But some people just wanted the traditional feel of voting in-person. I spoke to a 35-year-old man here at Union Market. He lives in Northeast D.C. And he said that this year that as a white man he was voting for others. You know, he said his Muslim brothers and sisters. He's a recent convert and Black and brown citizens, his neighbors, and that's different from why he voted in 2016. And he said that he's someone who likes to celebrate his birthday on his birthday and similarly he likes to vote on Election Day to have that same feel.

  • 12:10:06

    NNAMDIWow. Residents can vote anywhere in the city in Washington. They don't have to vote in their ward. Do you know whether this has led to any confusion or longer lines in any areas?

  • 12:10:18

    WILLIAMSNot where I've been, not in Northeast. I've seen that, you know, you're driving by the polling locations and there are plenty of signs that say vote here. As I mentioned earlier, there's a band waiving people down handing out free food. So not that I've seen in terms of confusion in D.C. If anything, it's probably made it a bit easier.

  • 12:10:39

    NNAMDIHere is Mayla in Vienna, Virginia. Mayla, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:10:45

    MAYLAHi, there. So my plan was to vote in-person on Election Day, because I love Election Day. I think it's an important day for community and I like seeing, you know, the kids out fundraising outside school and stuff like that, but then a couple of days -- about 10 days ago, somebody in my circle tested positive for COVID. And then I realized that was a really bad plan, because had it not been -- I might not have been able to get there in-person. So it's all good and we're all negative and we're all fine, but I barely made it in with the absentee ballot.

  • 12:11:25

    NNAMDIOkay. So you decided, because of that not to vote in-person.

  • 12:11:29

    MAYLAWell, I had to because it was so close to the end. You know, because I wasn't able to request a ballot when I did, I would have still been in quarantine.

  • 12:11:40

    NNAMDIWow. Okay, well, good luck. Apparently your mail-in ballot was accepted. Elliot, do we know if any of the voters besides the one who just called in a little while ago casting their ballots today had issues with mail-in or early voting?

  • 12:12:00

    WILLIAMSSure. We did hear a few voters mention, you know, the similar experience of casting their early ballot and, you know, getting -- not having the accepted status when they check it. So the confusion around, you know, is that actually being read. But, you know, over the next few weeks that's what the election officials are supposed to be doing. They're still counting. You know, our system with so many people voting early, it will take a while. We might not get all of the results we want right away tonight.

  • 12:12:31

    NNAMDIElliot, can you stick around for a while? We're going to take a short break, but there are a lot of people who want to join this conversation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:54

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Later we'll be checking in with local food banks to see how they're holding up eight months into the pandemic and what they're planning for the holidays. Right now we're talking with Elliot Williams. He's a Staff Writer for WAMU's DCist about today's voting after so many people voted early. And we're talking your calls. Elliot, you're in Northeast D.C. right now, but remind us about what's on the ballot and what's at stake for District voters.

  • 12:13:20

    WILLIAMSRight. So as you mentioned, it's not just a national election. There are plenty of local issues at play here. We have a very crowded At-Large D.C. Council race. There are about 23 candidates. And we have a voter guide, actually, on DCist.com where we spoke to each candidate and asked what they were running for. And a lot of people have actually gone to that site and to that page because there are so many candidates.

  • 12:13:47

    WILLIAMSYou know, when I was at Turkey Thicket I saw not just plenty signs for one or two or three candidates. I saw all of them. And so there's that Council race. There's also the Ward 2 Council race, and Initiative 81, which is seeking to decriminalize mushrooms and other natural hallucinogens. And interestingly when I asked a few voters about where they landed on Initiative 81 whether they even knew what it was, a few people I talked to today said they hadn't heard of it. And didn't actually know what it was until today.

  • 12:14:22

    NNAMDIYou know, turnout is always far higher in a presidential election year and there is especially high interest this time around. But in our very blue region there's not much suspense around the presidential race. Are you hearing a lot from voters about the presidential race and do we know what it all means for turnout?

  • 12:14:41

    WILLIAMSCertainly. Actually every voter I've spoken to today, that's the first election -- that's the first thing they mention was that they're voting for a change across America. One man I spoke to who was on his way to work after voting said that he voted for -- he said Kamala Harris first and Joe Biden, because he wants a change. He wants to return to what he said the Obama years were like, and he feels that today is his chance to make that happen. So, you know, we're anticipating in D.C. as in 2016 a blue wave in the region. You know, in 2016, 94 percent of D.C. residents voted for Clinton and four percent voted for other. We're expecting to see similar numbers this time around in D.C.

  • 12:15:27

    NNAMDIHere's Menicia in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Menicia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:15:32

    MENICIAHi, this is Menicia. So my husband and I decided to do an experiment to where we dropped our mail-in ballots to two different locations. One a drop box in front of a polling center and one at a post office box on the same day and we wanted to track them through and see which one arrived the fastest. So we dropped them on October 9th and about a week later they were marked as received on the tracking site. Mine was a little earlier than his, which was dropped in the post office box, but here's the catch. They weren't counted until this past weekend. And we voted, we dropped them off on October 9th. This is Maryland and it's a little concerning, because you think that Maryland would have, you know, things together, but, nope. It took that long to actually count our ballots.

  • 12:16:21

    NNAMDIBut at least, Menicia, they have been counted.

  • 12:16:25

    MENICIAThey absolutely have been counted. It's just it makes me worry thinking, you know, that in our state, our deep blue state, it took this long. I wonder, and it makes me worry about states that aren't as progressive as our state is.

  • 12:16:36

    NNAMDIYeah. As a matter of fact, a lot of people are worried about how long it's going to take for us to find out the actual results of this election. Usually you find out about it the same night of the election. This year that might be a bit of a problem as there have been in a few previous elections, but thank you for sharing that story with us. Here now is Andrew in Bowie, Maryland. Andrew, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:17:03

    ANDREWGood to hear you, Kojo. I just wanted to encourage everyone to get out there today and vote. I tried to vote yesterday and admittedly I was unprepared. I was in shorts and flip flops and the line was out the building. So after being cold for about an hour I gave up. I came back this morning. I walked right up to the both. I had my double socks on and boots. I was ready to stay in the cold and I didn't need any of it. I was in and out in 20 minutes and I was the same day registered here in Prince George's County. So get out there and vote.

  • 12:17:32

    NNAMDIAndrew, explain to us why you were wearing shorts and flip flops yesterday.

  • 12:17:37

    ANDREWBecause I am not accepting the fact we're getting cold weather so far.

  • 12:17:43

    NNAMDIFace reality, Andrew. Thank you very much for sharing your story with us. Elliot, this election year is different also, because there are concerns about what will happen depending on the outcome. Windows are boarded up across the city and there are demonstrations and rallies planned for later today. What are you seeing and hearing?

  • 12:18:02

    WILLIAMSI've actually seen signs that are advertising for a watch -- a people's watch party at Black Lives Matter Plaza tonight at 8:30 in Lafayette Square where they're going to have a jumbotron displaying the results. And, you know, there's also at 4:00 p.m. Shutdown D.C. is leading a group of activists to quote "ensure free and fair elections" according to a permit that they filed with the National Park Service. So there's certainly going to be a lot of activity and energy down by Lafayette Square and Black Lives Matter Plaza. As you mentioned, over the summer we've seen plenty clashes between protestors, police officers and so, you know, we have to sort of stay tuned. We have reporters that are actually going to be out there. And will be, you know, eyes and ears to see what's going on.

  • 12:18:53

    NNAMDISo there are concerns about clashes with police or about protests turning violent?

  • 12:18:58

    WILLIAMSThere are if only because even in recent weeks in D.C. there have been clashes. And, you know, just last week, there were protests by the Fourth District Police Department where, you know, police were seen in riot gear using pepper spray and having shields. And they claim that protestors were setting out fireworks at them. So, you know, there have been these clashes over police brutality and what people want in terms of police reform in the city. It's been an ongoing issue as it has across the country and it's played itself out here in D.C.

  • 12:19:35

    NNAMDILody tweets us saying that the same thing happened to her. That is a missing ballot. She says to call the Board of Elections for help. And Susan from Arlington called, but couldn't stay on the line. But she says, to the caller who's ballot has not been accepted, if your ballot is not accepted, you should go and vote in-person and require a provisional ballot. You're legally allowed to ask for a provisional ballot. There's no fraud involved and today is your last chance to actually vote. Here now is Tesfie in Maryland. Tesfie, go ahead, please.

  • 12:20:12

    TESFIEHi, Kojo, this is the first time I voted by mail-in ballot. I got my ballot in the mail, filled it up, but didn't have confidence in the post office. So I held on to it until the early voting started. And then the first day I went to the civic center in Silver Spring and they had a massive drop box and I dropped it in the box and went home. And I avoided the weather and the line. I did not check -- I did not know if I could track it or if it was, you know, counted, but I'm hoping it is.

  • 12:20:56

    NNAMDIThank you very much and good luck with your hope, Tesfie. Here is Risa in Arlington, Virginia. Risa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:21:08

    RISAHi, Kojo. Good afternoon. Just calling to share a little bit about my experience early voting, I voted early several weeks ago at the Fairfax County Government Center where early on in early voting there was some issue with protestors and fears of voter intimidation. And when I went there was a lot of people out canvassing, you know, different perspectives, which is fine. But there was a general sense of tension in the air, I think, especially for me.

  • 12:21:41

    RISAAs I was in line there were, you know, the person that was in front of me was an older lady. And she asked for more physical space and I kind of exaggerated and gave her a lot more space than six feet. And the person behind me didn't really appreciate that. It seemed, you know, like the more space that I gave her, the less space that he wanted to give me and he wanted to, you know, kind of move me forward, and he did that repeatedly. And ultimately ended up --

  • 12:22:11

    NNAMDIBut you did end up being able to vote, though.

  • 12:22:13

    RISAI was able to vote. Yes.

  • 12:22:16

    NNAMDII say that, because we're almost out of time. Elliot, when do polls close in D.C., Maryland and Virginia?

  • 12:22:21

    WILLIAMSIn Virginia, they close at 7:00. And then D.C. and Maryland voters have until 8:00 p.m. So there is still plenty of time to get out there and vote in-person today. And, please, do it safely. Wear a mask if you do.

  • 12:22:33

    NNAMDIElliot Williams is a Staff Writer at WAMU's DCist. Elliot, I'm missing you at work. My son misses seeing you at church, but hopefully we will see each other again soon.

  • 12:22:45

    WILLIAMSLet's hope. I miss you both as well.

  • 12:22:46

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll check in with local food banks to see how they're holding up. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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