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Many NYers Cast Ballots Before Election Day

Voters line up in the snow outside the Bought Community Fire District building in Cohoes in Albany County on Oct. 30, 2020.
Jim Levulis

Voters in New York who have not cast their ballots early, in-person or by mail, go to the polls Tuesday. While Democrat Joe Biden is heavily favored to win the state over President Donald Trump, there is plenty of action in congressional and state races for voters to weigh in on. 

The 2020 election is the first major election in New York where voters had the choice of casting their ballots early. Polls were open from October 24 through November 1. According to the State Board of Elections, over two and a half million people took advantage of that option, many waiting in long lines.  

Also because of the coronavirus pandemic, any eligible voter was able to cast an absentee ballot, to be delivered either through the mail, at early polling sites, or on Tuesday at any polling location. Over one million voters have sent in absentee ballots. 

In total, one-quarter of New Yorkers eligible to vote have already cast their ballots. 

Jennifer Wilson, with the League of Women Voters, says her group and other voting advocates lobbied Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State legislature for funds to offer more early polling sites, but that did not happen. 

“I wish they had given more money to counties so that they could have had more poll sites, had more hours and be prepared for this,” said Wilson. 

She says while the long lines were “frustrating,” the League views early voting as largely a success. 

“It does seem like those who did vote early were in good spirits, there was not too much complaining going on,” Wilson said. “And overall I think that New Yorkers were really happy to have the option to vote early this year.”   

Among the races being voted on are a number of contested campaigns for Congress, as well as for the State Senate. 

One of the most competitive congressional districts in the nation encompasses Staten Island, where first-term Democrat Max Rose is fighting a challenge by Republican Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis. The ads are intense. 

“It's everything you hate about politics, all in one person; Nicole Malliotakis,” says the voice over on a Max Rose ad. 

In another, Malliotakis narrates, calling Rose a “hypocrite.”  

“What do you call a hypocrite Congressman like Max Rose?” Malliotakis asks in the ad. “An ex-congressman.”   

Other close races include two central New York rematches. Former Congresswoman Claudia Tenney is seeking to win her seat back from Democrat Anthony Brindisi, and Congressman John Katko, a Republican, faces Democratic challenger Dana Balter for a second time. Also in play, an open seat on Long Island held by long time Congressman Peter King, who is retiring. 

In the state Senate, Democrats are hoping to increase their 40 of 63 seats by at least two more districts to form a supermajority, with the power to override any vetoes by a governor. Ten longtime Republican Senators are retiring. That could give democrats an advantage in some of those open seats, says Senate Democratic Campaign Committee Chari Michael Gianaris.  

“We are expecting to pick up seats,” said Gianaris. “We’re excited about Election Day.”  

Democrats in the State Senate are defending their record on criminal justice reforms, abortion rights and anti-climate change measures. Republicans say Democrats went too far on items including bail reform, and say New Yorkers don’t want one-party rule by Democrats.  

The growing unpopularity of President Donald Trump in suburban areas could also swing some districts to Democrats. But Senate Republican Minority Leader Robert Ortt says Trump remains popular in many regions of the state where GOP candidates are competitive. 

“I have not seen data, and I’ve looked at polls and data in all those races, that shows me that the President is going to be the reason why our candidate doesn’t get there,” Ortt said.  

This election cycle also brings stricter requirements for ballot access for minor parties. Third parties in New York are permitted to endorse major party candidates in a process known as fusion voting. They now have to meet a higher threshold, more than double the number of votes previously required, in order to earn an automatic slot on the ballot. 

Sochie Nnaemeka with the progressive-leaning Working Families Party, which has often feuded with Governor Cuomo, is leading an effort to get more voters to use the party’s slot to choose Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden for president and California Senator Kamala Harris for vice president. 

“There’s no public will or demand to make it harder for pole to vote their values and support third parties,” Nnaemeka said in late October.  

Nnaemeka says the Working Families Party is confident it will meet the new threshold.  

When all of the voting is finished, New Yorkers should not expect to know the results right away.  Just like in the Presidential contest, it could take weeks before all of the absentee ballots are tallied in close down ballot races. The vote does not have to be certified until December 7.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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