Voting is Essential: People Must Be Able to Safely Exercise Their Rights During Emergencies

Protestors gather against a barricade while a line of police in riot gear stand on the other side
On Saturday, May 30, in Washington, DC, protesters took to the streets to protest the killing of George Floyd, an African American man who was killed by a white police officer in Minnesota. Photo by Ardavan Roozbeh/ZUMA Wire.

Washington District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a mandatory 7 p.m. curfew for June 2, 2020 – Election Day in the District – as officials prepare for protests around the city. Polls do not close until 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Voters must be able to travel to and from their polling locations safely and without fear of law enforcement interference, but the curfew was announced by an emergency cellphone alert that did not mention any exception for voting. This is insufficient.

While Mayor Bowser is balancing public safety concerns, it is also important that government executives not place last-minute limitations on voter movement while the polls are open. Voters must be able to travel to and from the polls and cast their ballots free from fear of police questioning, harassment, or arrest.

As explained in a letter sent by Campaign Legal Center (CLC) to Mayor Bowser, under the District’s current curfew, the likelihood of police confrontation with voters is high. The burdens will undoubtedly fall disproportionately on voters of color, who may reasonably fear police interactions, especially when law enforcement has been directed to take people into custody if the curfew is violated.

All voters need to be able to get to the polls and return home safely. Imposing a curfew during voting hours would set a terrible precedent for the remainder of the primary season and the November general election.