Tens of thousands of voters flocked to dozens of polling sites across NYC on Saturday, for the first day of early voting in the 2020 presidential election.
According to preliminary, unofficial results from the NYC Board of Elections, 93,830 people cast ballots, with the most votes (29,411) cast in Brooklyn, followed by Manhattan at 19,877; Queens at 19,223; the Bronx at 14,928; and 10,391 on Staten Island.
This is the first time New Yorkers have had the opportunity to vote early in a general presidential election.
Lines stretched for blocks outside many poll sites, with some voters lining up as early as 7 a.m. By the time the polls opened at 10 a.m. on Saturday, hundreds of New Yorkers were already waiting outside many early voting locations, eager to cast their vote in person, despite the ongoing pandemic. Attempts to socially distance while waiting also made the lines extend farther.
"My husband and I wanted to physically come and vote," Tobie Chaiet, who had been waiting for an hour outside the Council Center for Senior Citizens polling site in Gravesend, Brooklyn. "And the fact that I could vote early was a great opportunity."
Shanette Charles, of Fort Greene, bought a chair Thursday just for the anticipated line at the Barclays Center. When asked who she plans to vote for, she showed her shirt with the names of the five men who were exonerated in the Central Park jogger case. “Does that answer your question?" she asked, alluding to President Donald Trump's campaign calling for their execution in 1989.
Dani Luna and Mark Ferlito emerged from Madison Square Garden's polling site after waiting for three hours. "We've been waiting four years to do this," Luna said. "It's really exciting. I actually cried when I cast my ballot."
They said their fellow voters were similarly energized, despite the long wait. "Everyone was willing to take as long as it took," Ferlito said.
Harlem voter Susan Ghim, who said she hoped to "keep New York sapphire blue," described lines doubling back and forth along three blocks, "I have waited two and a half hours and am midway to the polling site. I have never experienced this kind of unifying energy and sense of community in my whole life. It is tremendous."
Delle-Ann Barrow, a single mother who brought her four-year-old son Malachy to vote at the Masonic Temple in Fort Greene, explained that she was determined to vote in person after hearing so much about “all the misinformation and just a lot of uncertainty with what happens to these ballots," including whether the post office would be able to handle the influx of pandemic absentee ballots. "I didn’t want to take any chances either," she said.
"I wanted my vote to count," Claudia Molano said after emerging from the poll site at Madison Square Garden. "We needed a change. Being a Latino, most of us are going broke, poor... leaving our apartments, moving upstate, moving back in with our parents."
She hesitated before saying she was on line for five hours, because she didn't want to discourage anyone. "I knew I had to stand on the line even if it took eight hours," she said.
"I'll wait 'til they close," Louise Picar said while waiting outside the Bronx County Courthouse. Describing herself as an immigrant who is particularly incensed by President Donald Trump's behavior towards woman, Picar emphasized that she is determined to vote. And if she wasn't able to vote on Saturday, she said, "I'll be here bright and early tomorrow morning."
The high voter turnout will undoubtedly raise questions about how early voting should be handled in the future, given that NYC has, as of February, over 5.3 million registered voters. The 93,380 votes cast on Saturday were more than all the votes from the entire early voting run during the November 2019 election, whose main draw were citywide ballot measures.
For this election there are 88 early voting sites that will be open through November 1st; this is just nine more sites than the June primary. On Election Day, about 1,200 sites will be open for voters citywide.
In a statement, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams called for more early poll sites to meet voter demand.
"While long lines are a sign of civic pride and determination, they are also a sign that we may need to open additional sites in the future to meet the demand of the electorate," Williams said. "The Administration and Board of Elections must monitor the next couple of days very closely. Thankfully there are nine days remaining, including another weekend to vote early."
The number of people who showed up on Saturday is likely even larger, because many people were seen dropping off absentee ballots at the sites, prompting poll workers to create separate lines just for them.
On the positive side, beyond the crowds of voters, there were no widespread problems with the process of voting itself reported.
When sites neared closing time of 4 p.m., poll workers assured those waiting that as long as they were on line, they would be able to vote. One poll worker at Lincoln Center estimated that the line of hundreds would finish voting in a few hours.
Outside the Bronx County Courthouse, Regina Grissom said, "I'm willing to wait longer than this. We need to right the wrongs." Her son Charles put it this way: "How long should you wait to make history?"
Early voting runs through November 1st; you can find your early voting polling site here (note that early voting sites are different from regular Election Day sites) and you can find early voting hours, which differ from day to day, here.
Tell us about your early voting experience by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Election Day is November 3rd.