The Empire State Has It’s Election Issues, But These Are Not The Same Issues As In The South
A lot of being made of the massive lines that arose in the first days of early voting in New York. The lines, sometimes four hours long, appeared not only in New York State, but all over the state; in Long Island, in Albany, in Buffalo, even in rural Herkimer County.
New York has a long, sordid history of making voting harder than most of the rest of the country, but we have come a long way in a few short years toward rectifying that situation. The lines this past week weren’t due to an attempt at keeping people from voting, rather they are a result of high enthusiasm, bad timing and the COVID-19 Pandemic.
This is only the second election during which New York has early voting. Previous to 2019, New Yorkers only had two options to vote – in person on Election Day or absentee due to illness, disability or because you would be out of town on Election Day. After taking control of the State Senate in 2018, Democrats enacted an expansion of voting rights that included early voting. Last year, a quiet off-year election, was the first time we had it. This is the first presidential election.
At first, due to the pandemic, it appears that most New Yorkers would take advantage of the expansion in absentee voting put in place by Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the primary and later the general, to avoid congregating at polls that would make social distancing difficult. Then Donald Trump fucked with the post office. It should be no surprise that when the threat of slowing down mail delivery to prevent votes from getting in on time became real, people shifted to early voting, My family did.
Further, we would normally vote early closer to Election Day, but we all felt these times are unpredictable and what if by Oct. 31 or Nov. `1, we are prevented from voting for some reason? Best to get your vote in early, especially when not undecided.
This is what I believe most New Yorkers did, which, on top of restrictions on how many people to let inside a venue due to COVID-19, led to the lines we saw in the last week. Over 1 million people voted early in New York City this year. That’s nearly half of total turnout in 2016, and doesn’t include anyone who did mail in their vote or will vote on Tuesday.
This does not mean there isn’t anything to learn from the lines this week. Early voting is in its infancy in New York, and this is the first presidential election during which we are able to vote early, The city did eventually extend the length of time polls are open, and number of sites, and should consider doing that in the future in years when high turnout is expected, like general elections in presidential years and midterm years. We did do some of that this year, adding several new early voting sites, like Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center, but more is needed.
And as far as the New York City (and state) Board of Elections? Yes, they are historically incompetent and corrupt. In the city, the BOE is an organization ripe with political patronage. It needs to be reformed for a multitude of reasons.
But when compared to Texas or Ohio putting one drop box in a county of millions of (mostly Democratic) voters, or black voters purged from the rolls in Georgia, or polling places being closed in black areas, or Florida requiring felons who served their time to pay a poll tax to vote, the lines in New York don’t even come close.