Early voting starts in New York state this Saturday, October 24th, and local officials are expecting a massive turnout.
“It’s just going to be a record turnout. We expect, and hopefully are prepared, for the volumes that are coming,” said Onondaga County Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny.
There will be six polling sites throughout Onondaga County; you can choose to vote at any one of them, regardless of your designated voting district, which dictates where you can vote on election day itself on November 3rd.
Last year 8,462 people chose to vote early in Onondaga County. That number is expected to increase as early voting sites around the county see record numbers, leading to long lines and wait times. Board of Elections officials in Onondaga County say that the fact that voters have six polling sites for early voting should help to keep wait times down; New York State law also mandates that officials find a way to ensure voters do not wait longer than thirty minutes to vote early.
“There's going to be some lines, so if voters are patient and wait, it will take a little time,” said Onondaga County Republican Elections Commissioner Michele Sardo, “our inspectors are very good, maybe a few minutes after [thirty minute limit] but they'll do very well.”
Both elections commissioners for Onondaga County say they are confident in the health and safety protocols in place for in-person voting. They’ll be the same standards and procedures used during the primary over the summer.
The Southwest Community Centre in Syracuse is one of the six early voting sites in the county. Darryl Mercer works there as the maintenance supervisor, and he’ll be volunteering to assist in cleaning efforts on early voting days and on election day. He says his team will perform a deep clean of every surface, tablet and pen voters could come into contact with every hour.
“We want everybody to understand that this thing this COVID-19 is for real,” said Mercer, “right here at the Southwest Community Center we are going to make it safe.”
Voters will be required to maintain social distancing and wear masks. There will be one entrance and a separate exit, maintaining one-way foot traffic through the polling site.
“That's all we need y'all to do, it will be safe,” said Mercer.
The Board of Elections is still working through absentee ballots. As of Monday, voters have returned 28,509 ballots to the county. There have been 59,758 applications for an absentee ballot; 30,300 from registered Democrats, and 12,573 from Republicans. Both elections commissioners agree that there is no evidence of voter fraud associated with absentee ballots.
Election officials check each one as they come in to ensure they have been filled out correctly; a new state law requires the county to notify voters if their ballot won’t be counted for some kind of mistake, giving them time to correct it. So far 400 of the nearly 30 thousand ballots the county has received have been flagged for an error, which Czarny says is typical for any election cycle. You can see the county’s instructions for voting by mail here.
“A lot of times it’s, people are voting absentee for the first time, they've never done it before, they forget to sign - it’s something innocent that would have otherwise thrown out their vote,” said Czarny.
So far 9 thousand more Democrats have applied for an absentee ballot than Republicans in Onondaga County – but more Republicans are expected to vote in-person, starting with early voting this weekend, according to Sardo.