A voting station will be open in Portsmouth Square in Chinatown from Oct. 31 until Nov. 3 to let residents drop off ballots and provide assistance to SRO residents. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

A voting station will be open in Portsmouth Square in Chinatown from Oct. 31 until Nov. 3 to let residents drop off ballots and provide assistance to SRO residents. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Chinatown voting station to help SRO residents make their voices heard

In a bid to boost voting access for single-room-occupancy tenants in Chinatown, election officials will host their first-ever early dropoff station in Portsmouth Square.

Chinatown community members on Thursday cheered the Department of Elections’ new plan to install a dropoff station at the neighborhood’s popular Portsmouth Square. Election personnel will be at the station to securely receive ballots and answer questions from Oct. 31 until Election Day.

“This is just one way that San Francisco can lead in terms of ensuring that all barriers are removed,” said Cynthia Choi, co-director of Chinese For Affirmative Action. “We have folks who are hesitant to take public transportation because we’re in a pandemic and general fear for public safety given the COVID-related racism. Just making it within walking distance helps a lot.”

The push was spurred by Chinatown Community Development Center and SRO Families Collaborative after SRO tenants reported issues receiving their ballots. Buildings without a centralized postal location often have mail left on the stairs, which becomes a problem during elections.

While elections director John Arntz said voters cannot obtain a new ballot at the Portsmouth Square station, they can ask questions to check on their ballot and be directed to information on provisional voting.

“The ballots are just kind of thrown on the stairs, it’s not secure,” said Allan Low, an attorney who sits on the Recreation and Park Commission and has tracked the issue. “It’s mixed up with other junk mail. I think this is just a first step of a much longer discussion of how do you make sure people have the right to vote.”

Voters who have not received a ballot or wish to vote sooner than the station’s opening on Oct. 31 are encouraged to head to the outdoor voting center outside City Hall and Bill Graham Civic Auditorium at 99 Grove St.

San Francisco voters have cast more than 150,000 ballots, about four times as many at this stage than during the Nov. 2016 election, the Examiner previously reported. That translates to about 31 percent of The City’s registered voters casting a ballot roughly two weeks before Election Day.

“This is the first time the department has organized a ballot drop-off station on Portsmouth Square,” said John Arntz, director of the Department of Elections, in an email. “The importance of providing this access is to allow voters [who] have yet to mail their ballots to the department to ensure their ballots are timely delivered to the department for counting.”

Portsmouth Square on Kearny and Washington streets is known as “Chinatown’s living room” and serves as a community hub. It stands to gain $54 million for a long-awaited renovation should voters pass Proposition A, San Francisco’s “health and recovery” bond measure on the November ballot.

“There is a terrible American tradition of trying to suppress the vote. That has never been as bad and as pernicious as it is today,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents Chinatown. “Vote we must, vote we shall. The best way to do that is to open access to voting in each and every community.”

The booth will be open starting Oct. 31 from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on weekends, and 7 a.m.-8 p.m. on Election Day.

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