Even Mayor Bill de Blasio waited three hours to cast his ballot on Tuesday, joining over 457,000 New Yorkers who have voted early in this election.
This is the first year that New York has offered early voting for a presidential election, and, impressively, the numbers of voters have grown every day since the first day of voting on Saturday, which saw over 93,000 early votes. There were 100,085 votes cast on Sunday, then 120,808 on Monday—and 143,012 votes counted on Tuesday.
"I felt the passion of the people that I was with who cared so much they would stand in line no matter what, to vote," de Blasio said during his Wednesday press conference. That said, de Blasio acknowledged that it "was an extraordinarily frustrating experience to be in a line for hours."
He pointed out that early voting was meant to be a solution to long waits on Election Day, "The whole idea was to make it easier for people and be ready to make it a positive experience. And that's what we did not see from the Board of Elections."
An analysis by Gothamist/WNYC shows that the early voting locations and number of voters assigned to each site appears random and planned with little regard for equitable distribution. For instance, Robert Wagner Middle School on the Upper East Side, where voters have been waiting three to five hours, has nearly 120,000 voters assigned to it, while NYU's Skirball Center in Greenwich Village has fewer than 10,000 voters.
NY State Board of Elections commissioner and co-chair Doug Kellner told us, "I don't think [the NYC Board of Elections] did the arithmetic to determine what their capacity was."
The city BOE did not respond to requests for comment on how voters are assigned to early voting sites, but they've mentioned that sites need to comply with Americans With Disabilities Act requirements, as well as social distancing protocols.
In addition to calling for the Board of Election to provide more ballot scanners at early sites, de Blasio proposed reforms to the agency. State law currently calls for the NYC Board of Elections to be comprised of 10 commissioners, two in each borough, and of those two, one is a Democrat and one is a Republican, picked by the borough's party bosses. On Wednesday de Blasio suggested an amendment to the state constitution, to strip party affiliations away from BOE leadership.
"We need to change the state constitution so we can have a Board of Elections that actually functions," he said.
Long lines weren’t a problem at the Bronx County Courthouse, where Agnes Diaz came with her two grown kids, Christian and Xiomara, to cast a ballot on Wednesday. Voting early was especially important for Agnes, who will be working as a poll worker on November 3rd.
“We all came together as a family,” said Agnes, adding it was Christian’s first time. Coming inside the courthouse, she pointed out, was a breeze.
Several blocks away, at the Andrew Freedman Home voting site, poll workers cheered for first-time voters the moment they cast a ballot. The new voters included Mahamadou Gangan, who found time to head to a voting site on his day off from work. Plus, he noted, he may not have had time on Election Day, underscoring the benefits of early voting.
“You have the chance now, just do it now, get it out the way,” said Gangan.
For Gangan, the last few years have been politically tumultuous. He blames President Trump for reshaping politics. “People feel like they could just run for president without no political experience, such as Kanye West–I don’t know if he’s really running–that’s like a thing,” said Gangan. "He set the bar kind of low in a sense, so I just feel like we should take voting more serious. Every vote counts.”
However, at the Robert Wagner Middle School, the wait was an estimated two and a half hours on Wednesday. But most voters seemed unperturbed by the line which snaked twice around the block. Several people expressed their determination to cast their ballot during an election year with unprecedented challenges.
Chandni Prasad, 49, said that she had actually submitted an absentee ballot but later discovered that it had not been processed because she had filled it out incorrectly.
So she decided to vote in person.“I wanted to be part of the democratic process early rather than late because I have the option and I have the time,” she said.
Robert Hogg, an election worker who was serving as a line manager at Robert Wagner Middle School, said he received a call on Saturday that the site needed help managing the line.The average wait time on Monday was around four hours, he estimated.
“There were so many people we didn’t know where to put them,” he said. “Literally we had people in the middle of Third Avenue.
Standing next to him on the block was another poll worker holding a sign that read, “End of the line.”
The other changes they instituted were the addition of an absentee ballot drop box and opening up an additional exit.As a result, Wednesday’s line was a vast improvement.
Hogg said that the shortest wait times has been around the time when polls closed. “That’s my advice to people,” he said.
The early voting sites open at noon on Wednesday, and close at 8 p.m.; Thursday voting hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. The enthusiastic turnout for early voting has also led New York City Board of Elections to expand voting hours on the last three days—7 a.m .until 5 p.m. on Friday, October 30th and Saturday, October 31st, and 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday, November 1st.
You can find your assigned early voting poll site here.
You can also drop off your absentee ballot at any early voting site or Board of Elections office. If you drop off your ballot in person at an early voting site or BOE office, you do not need postage; if you go to an early voting site, find a poll worker at the site to inquire about the absentee ballot drop-off (there may be a line).
If you want to vote by absentee ballot, you can go to a Board of Elections office through November 2nd to request a form.
Finally, Election Day is November 3rd; find your Election Day polling site here (very likely different from your early voting site!). Polls open on November 3rd at 6 a.m. and close at 9 p.m.
Tell us about your voting experience—email us at email@example.com.
With additional reporting from Gloria Cruz.