New Yorkers streamed into early voting locations for the fourth straight day Tuesday, as elections officials in NYC finally addressed a major concern of voters and advocates alike.
State election officials said over 710,000 New Yorkers have voted at in-person polling stations Saturday through Monday, including nearly 400,000 in New York City.
Among the people braving another day of long lines for early voting was New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. The Democrat joined the end of a half-mile-long queue at his Brooklyn polling location around 1:30 p.m. and then waited 3 1/2 hours to cast his ballot, enjoying a slice of pizza as he waited among his constituents.
“I’m a little tired like everyone else, but it’s important. Nothing more important than voting this year,” he told reporters after emerging, adding that he waited because he "wanted to experience this with everyone else. I wanted to vote, like so many other people. It's so important to make sure my vote is counted, Election Day I think is going to be even crazier."
On Wednesday, during his daily coronavirus press briefing, de Blasio reflected on the environment around him as he endured the long wait to cast his vote in person the previous day.
"It was something powerful. You could feel how much people cared, how much they wanted to make a difference. You could feel the hope that comes from that," he said. "Folks were patient, they were positive, they were supporting each other. They were determined to vote."
Though he said that was the "good news," he aired his frustration with voters having to wait for hours.
"There should not have been a situation where New Yorkers were forced to wait hours and hours for early voting," he said, adding that the whole idea of early voting "was to make it easier for people" and avoid the possible long lines on Election Day.
The mayor, along with a growing list of other elected officials, had called on the city's Board of Elections to do something to improve the wait times for those trying to vote, and to extend the hours that polling places will be open. On Tuesday, the latter was addressed.
In response to the overwhelming demand, the BOE announced changes to the schedules for early voting which will keep locations open later — adding nine extra hours of early voting. On Friday and Saturday, polling places will now be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sunday they will be open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. in order to accommodate the long lines that have become common.
The board did not opt to add any more voting sites, however, sticking with the 88 locations already established with 3,800 poll workers trying to get things to run as smoothly as possible.
But de Blasio said that even with the additional hours, it's still not enough, as he called for a full change within the Board of Elections.
"Make it much longer hours. The regular voting day is 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., we should do whatever hours it's going to take to reduce the lines and make it easier for people to vote," the mayor said.
Although de Blasio said he appreciated the changes the board implemented thus far, he stressed Wednesday that the BOE needs to take further action ahead of this coming weekend, the last weekend of early voting before Election Day.
"They need to take more action," he said. "There is still time to increase the hours for early voting further, to get more machines over to the poll sites, to get more workers over there. There is a chance to get it right, especially for this upcoming weekend, when we expect a huge turnout. So I am calling upon the New York City Board of Elections to get it right, to go further, to do more to make sure that early voting really works for the people of this city."
Some voters who waited in line alongside the mayor said that the long lines felt like some form of voter suppression, echoing comments made by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Monday.
For voters who would rather not cast their ballot in person, Tuesday was also the last day to apply for an absentee ballot online, by email, by fax or mail.
New York is the largest of over two dozen states, including Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio, where voters can request an absentee ballot as late as seven days before the election.
Reports of long waits at early voting sites have led to criticism that there are too few voting locations. There are 280 early polling sites statewide, including 88 in New York City. In 35 counties, there is only one early voting site.
Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan said his county’s already surpassed all early votes cast in 2019 and called on his county board of elections to expand hours and add additional polling locations.
“With five more days of early voting remaining, we must bolster our efforts and do everything that we can to ensure all of our residents can vote safely and quickly,” he said.