This November, San Francisco will obviously not be one of those precincts around the country where voters are systematically disenfranchised in clearly racist and Trumpian ways. But this will, nonetheless, be an unprecedented election in the city, with a pandemic still raging and many residents working remotely. And the city's Department of Elections is making plans for socially distanced voting booths, and how to process a surfeit of absentee and mail-in ballots.
First off, the city has an agreement with the current managers of Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, Another Planet Entertainment, and the sidewalk outside the auditorium is set to become a big, open-air voting center. As SFBay reports, the sidewalk will be lined with voting booths — which would usually be part of an indoor, Civic Center polling place — and ballot drop boxes.
Given that there are no concerts to compete with, the city is able to take over the interior of the auditorium as well for a ballot processing center. Per SFBay, not all the processing can occur there because of the lack of a secure, high-speed fiber connection. But Department of Elections Director John Arntz explains that City Hall will still be used for the scanning of mail-in ballots and the verifying of signatures. But then Bill Graham will be used for the remainder of ballot processing activities.
The outdoor voting center will allow people to obtain replacement ballots if they lost their vote-by-mail ballot, and register to vote — even if the October 19 deadline has passed for registering by mail or online. You can also go there to drop your ballot physically in a drop box, bypassing the U.S. Postal Service — or if you are really concerned about your vote being counted quickly, you can just vote in person. You can also vote in person at your normal, neighborhood polling place, per usual, with a mask on.
"For anyone who’s been in City Hall around election time, you might have seen ballots coming down the hallway from the loading dock on Grove Street and going down past our main office to the hallway down the far side of the building," Arntz said during a recent briefing. "That process will still continue."
Arntz says you can expect those mail-in ballots to start arriving in mailboxes on October 5. The Civic Center voting center will be open daily from October 5 to November 3.
Below is a slideshow presentation that lays all the other details about voting in San Francisco, including details about the always confusing ranked-choice voting system for citywide offices.
Photo: J. Ashe Bowie/Wikimedia