Hundreds of Nassau County residents stood in a line snaking through the parking lot on the west side of the Elmont Memorial Library for up to five hours last Saturday, waiting for their chance to vote in the 2020 election.
“I think it’s a good showing,” Elmont resident Leslie Pierre said of the turnout on the first day of early voting. “People are taking it as serious as it is.”
Some even arrived before the library opened and voting began at 9 a.m., forming the line by the library sign, on Hempstead Turnpike.
“It was very well-organized and self-managed,” said Ann Butera, of Elmont, adding that everyone was trying to be respectful of one another, but it would have been helpful if Nassau County police officers had been on-site to manage the crowds.
Members of the library staff had to direct cars coming into the parking lot, according to library Director Jean Simpson, which limited the number who were available to sanitize the facility. The building opened for patrons at 11 a.m., Simpson said.
But there were only three voting machines for the hundreds of people who wanted to vote, which resulted in the excruciatingly long line. Simpson said she had asked local officials for more, and State Sen. Anna Kaplan — a Democrat from Great Neck who is running for re-election against Republican challenger Dave Franklin — said she had talked with the Nassau County Board of Elections about getting additional machines, and would request more state funding for them. "People should not have to wait five hours to vote,” Kaplan said.
The Town of North Hempstead, she noted, did not have any early voting sites last year, when the law allowing early voting in New York state was passed, and she drafted legislation to ensure that every town would have polling places. The bill passed the State Senate, but is stalled in the Assembly.
Currently state election law mandates at least one “direct recording electronic voting device” for every 3,000 registered voters, at least one scanning device for every 25,000 registered voters and at least one privacy booth for every 3,600 registered voters in a presidential election year.
Any Nassau County resident can cast a ballot at any of the county’s 15 early-voting sites.
“We have to work hard to do better, to make this an efficient experience,” said State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach who is also running for re-election, against Republican Victoria Johnson.
Many of those in line in Elmont found ways to entertain themselves, sitting in beach chairs and reading while they waited. One man decided to see how long he could balance a water bottle on his head while talking on his phone.
“I thought it was going to be long,” said Elmont native Mike Todd. “I just didn’t think it would be this long.”
At 10 a.m., the staff let those over age 65 into the building. Myriam Moralesvega, 67, of Uniondale, said that her back was aching after three hours on line.
Parishioners from St. John’s United Methodist Church of Elmont also dropped off water bottles, and Gina Burnett, vice president of the library’s board of trustees, encouraged voters to stretch while on line.
There were no attempts to cut the line or save space for friends or family, and no voter intimidation, reported one participant, Marco Diaz. Instead, said another, Ramona Rovira, “People are in high spirits” — and applauded their fellow residents as they left, displaying “I voted” stickers.
“It’s a very nice feeling,” Rovira said, “even if we don’t know the outcome.”
Once they finally got inside, Alan Sirlin, of Valley Stream, said, the process went pretty quickly. He voted with the over-65 crowd, but had to wait several more hours for his son to make his way through the line.
“Saturday is a better day for voting” than Tuesday, Sirlin said.
Residents who vote early verify their voter registration on iPads, which have replaced poll books. Poll inspectors ask voters to sign their names and confirm their identities with a stylus, and once a signature is approved, a ballot is printed.
“No matter where you go, you’re getting your ballot,” said James Scheuerman, the Democratic commissioner of the Board of Elections. He also explained that if residents submit ballots during the early-voting period, that precludes them from voting on Election Day. “The poll pads sync up,” he said, “so after you vote, other poll books around the county, within one minute, will know that you voted to guard against double voting.”
Translators are also available at every voting site.