polling places

DC, Maryland Eliminate Voting at Senior Facilities; Arlington Has Creative Alternative

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Voters heading to the polls in-person in November will want to check the location ahead of time. Many elections officials throughout the D.C. region have switched away from polling places at long-term care facilities to protect the senior residents and voters.

"Some of them were already telling us that they were not going to open to the community, and we absolutely respect that," said Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator for Maryland's State Board of Elections.

Charlson said instead of many of its traditional polling places, Maryland opted to use larger vote centers with better air flow and room for social distancing.

"These are much larger facilities that we can get more voters through more quickly and more safely," Charlson said.  

Washington, D.C., is not planning to use senior facilities either. But elections officials in Arlington County, Virginia, wanted to keep the consistency for voters at two traditional polling places, The Jefferson and Culpepper Gardens, so they came up with a creative way to do it. Elections officials plan to install tents in the parking lot so voters won't have to go inside the buildings.

"It'll look pretty much like our normal polling place. It just has better ventilation and has people that are waiting outside instead of in small, enclosed places," said Eric Olsen, deputy director of elections for Arlington County.

The Jefferson senior living facility suffered an earlier COVID-19 outbreak with 35 cases and nine deaths. The county didn't want to put the residents at greater risk by bringing voters inside.

"It just makes it a safer process for everybody involved," Olsen said, adding that it's also safer for poll workers who spend many hours on site on election day.

Voters will be able to social distance in the parking lot while in line. The county has already tested the system over the summer.

"We've actually done two different elections during the pandemic so far, and we haven't had any reported incidents of COVID from both June and July," Olsen said.

Roughly 1,500 Arlington voters are using early voting each day and more than 60,000 have already requested mailed ballots, which should mean fewer voters in person at polling places on Election Day.

Olsen says the county will update its website so voters know they won't have to go inside the building. And anyone who is still concerned about the risk can still request a mailed ballot through Oct. 23.

The county is prepared to adjust if there's an outbreak at any of the polling locations right around the time of the election, so it's important to check the website and confirm your voting location before you head out to cast your ballot.

D.C. and Maryland are allowing voters to choose which vote center they wish to use on Election Day, rather than assigning a traditional polling place.

Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, shot and edited by Jeff Piper.

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