The new SF Voting Center is a large tent outside the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

City unveils new outdoor voting center

By Daniel Montes

Bay City News Service

San Francisco city officials on Thursday unveiled the city’s Voting Center, a new tent site just outside City Hall, where residents will be able to vote in-person or drop-off their ballots, starting Monday.

The Voting Center, located directly in front of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium at 99 Grove St., replaces the Voting Center inside City Hall to allow for in-person voting and social distancing for the Nov. 3 election.

Because this year all California voters are set to receive vote-by-mail ballots due to the COVID-19 pandemic, voters will have the choice to either vote in-person or by mail. According to election officials, there will be 588 polling places across the city, where voters either vote or drop off their ballots.

Mayor London Breed speaks at a news conference announcing the new SF Voting Center, where people can register to vote, vote and turn in their ballots. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

“Our goal is to make this as easy as possible,” Mayor London Breed said during a news conference outside the Voting Center. “We know that this is a city that prides itself in making sure our voices are heard and we’re not going to let COVID stop us from making sure that you have access to vote in San Francisco at your convenience.”

“I have complete confidence in our Department of Elections that we will have a beautiful election and it’ll be a really strong showing in a really difficult period of time,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener. “What this is really about is options. We are in what’s hopefully a once-in-a-century global pandemic and everyone has different concerns… and we want people to be able to make choices that work for them, in terms of how they vote.”

According to San Francisco Department of Elections Director John Arntz, the department will begin mailing the ballots to residents starting Friday and they’re expected to begin arriving on Monday. Once open, the Voting Center and other polling places will require that voters and polling staff wear masks and maintain distance. In addition, voting stations will be cleaned frequently throughout the day.

Rows of voting booths stand inside a tent at the new SF Voting Center near City Hall. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

When Gov. Gavin Newsom announced back in June that every California resident would receive a vote-by-mail ballot as a result of the pandemic, President Donald Trump, who is running for reelection, criticized the move, alleging possible delays within the U.S. Postal Service could lead to voter suppression. But, according to Arntz, his office has been in contact with the postal service to make sure things run smoothly leading up to the election.

“We’ve had many conversations and meetings with the Post Office. We’ve provided them with vote-by-mail ballots so they could run the ballot packets through their equipment to make sure that there are no issues with the processing,” he said. “I just want to assure voters that the city, the Department of Elections have put much time, much thought into making sure that voters have options during the elections, and that those options are safe and secure.”

On Monday, the Voting Center will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, and on the weekend of Oct. 24 and Oct. 31, the center will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information about other polling locations, replacement ballots and more, visit https://sfelections.sfgov.org/.

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