New York Seeks a Smooth Election After Millions Vote Early

Posters asking voters to maintain proper social distancing hang from a poll worker’s desk as a voter signs on Election Day at Madison Square Garden, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

New Yorkers cast their final ballots Tuesday amid a pandemic that had officials worried about protecting the health of voters and safety on top of more typical concerns about long wait times or adequate staffing.

Long lines formed at scattered polling places in the New York City area in the first few hours of voting Tuesday, even with a record number of people casting ballots by mail or through early voting. No major problems had been reported at New York City polling sites over the first few hours of voting, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

In Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill section, voters expressed both urgency and resignation over how the election would turn out.

“The country is so divided that I feel like it’s not going to be good either way,” said Nurit Dallimore, who likened the political climate to the “war zone” atmosphere she remembers from her native Israel. “Someone’s going to find something to riot about.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James said she will work with local election boards and law enforcement to “swiftly address any incidents of intimidation or harassment.” The good-government group Common Cause New York enlisted volunteers to monitor polling sites and help people who have problems voting.

In past elections, 90% of New York’s vote was cast on Election Day, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo relaxed the state’s rules this year to allow anyone worried about the coronavirus to vote by mail.

A record 3.5 million votes were cast in New York before the polls even opened on Election Day.

At least 1 million absentee ballots had been turned in as of Friday, according to the state Board of Election. Any ballots postmarked by Tuesday will be counted.

In a rural stretch of upstate New York west of Albany, voters streamed into the Knox Town Hall on a bright, cold morning with fresh snow on the ground. Jim Czebiniak, 72, and semi-retired, said he wanted to make sure his vote counted.

“I don’t trust the way the mail is being handled, I don’t trust the way ballots are getting ignored or thrown out,” he said.

Eric Marczak, a 73-year-old retiree, said he had no concerns about voting during the pandemic.

“Up here, we live in a rural area and I feel like we have an extra layer of protection,” he said.

This was also the first presidential election in which the state allowed early, in-person voting. More than 2.5 million such ballots were cast, despite hours-long lines at the limited number of early voting stations.

About 7.8 million ballots of all types were cast in New York in the 2016 presidential election.

State and local election officials warn it could take weeks to know the results of tight races.

State law delays the absentee count start until at least Nov. 6 and gives counties until Nov. 28 to report results. That gives local election officials time to cross-check voting data and audit in-person votes.