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Vote Early By School, Home, Or Work—But Only If You Live In Nassau County

Voters at Brooklyn Public Library during last year's general election, where voters reported "an hour and a half wait minimum"
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Voters at Brooklyn Public Library during last year's general election, where voters reported "an hour and a half wait minimum" Scott Heins / Gothamist

When early voting launches in New York City this fall, voters will be directed to one, singular, specific poll site in their home borough—doesn’t matter if another location is closer or more convenient. According to New York City Board of Elections officials, it’s a logistical impossibility to allow voters to choose any poll site in their home borough.

But just across the Queens border, Nassau County election officials believe a better way was possible. Starting on October 26th and continuing through November 3rd, the period of early voting statewide, Nassau voters will be able to cast their ballots at any of the 15 designated early voting centers across the county.

“We wanted to make sure that people could access the early voting sites from where they work, or where they shop, or where they live,” said Bonnie Garone, the counselor to Nassau County’s Democratic commissioner. “So all 15 are open to any registered voter in the county, so they can vote where it’s most convenient for them.”

New York approved a long-awaited series of election reforms this year that included early voting. It allows voters to cast ballots nine days before Election Day, starting with this November’s general election. The current list of city sites includes 57 locations; every voter will be assigned to one.

What makes it possible to do in Nassau County what officials in New York City have said is "not in the cards" this year seems to be a matter of will.

Both Nassau County and New York City use the same voting system—paper ballots that are marked by voters and fed into DS 200 scanning machines made by Election Systems & Software. The machines must be put through rigorous testing to ensure they are reading ballots correctly. Each different ballot style, which changes based on the contests in a given district, must be tested.

Garone said Nassau officials, like their counterparts in New York City, expect over 1,000 different ballot styles and were still determining the specifics of their testing protocol. But she said officials believe they could meet the state requirements and still make all vote centers open to all Nassau county voters.

Listen to Brigid Bergin's report on WNYC:

New state legislation also allows localities to use use electronic poll books as opposed to the thick, paper printouts voters previously signed at poll sites.

(State election officials were expected to announce this week which electronic poll book software and vendors were approved for localities to purchase. State Board of Elections officials meet on Thursday.)

The obvious difference between Nassau County and New York City is population. Nassau officials are responsible for running the election in one county as opposed to five counties in the city. The actual races on the respective ballots will also be different given there are no statewide or federal contests this year.

But Nassau County’s broader early voting experiment may provide useful lessons for New York City. The current number of enrolled voters there stands at just over one million, making it a larger county by voting population than the Bronx (819,141) or Staten Island (313,930) but smaller than Manhattan (1,181,425), Queens (1,258,019) or Brooklyn (1,607,640).

State election officials said they see Nassau’s plan as a possible model for the rest of the state.

“Nassau has a can-do attitude, where they understand what the challenges are and then try to plan to address them,” said Doug Kellner, the Democratic co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections, adding, “as opposed to New York City, which regards almost every challenge as a barrier.”

NYC Board of Elections Executive Director Mike Ryan, no stranger to criticism from all sides, defended the pragmatism of the city’s approach.

“What we are trying to say to folks is, give us a chance. Let us get through one event,” Ryan said at last week’s Commissioner’s meeting. “We haven’t even gotten to October yet.”

Brigid Bergin is the City Hall and politics reporter for WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter at @brigidbergin.

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