Pictured above: Voters waiting before the polls opened in Mattituck Saturday morning.

Voters began to gather two hours before early voting opened at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Mattituck Senior Center, and by the time the polls opened, the line snaked several times through the parking lot as residents waited patiently to cast their ballots.

By midday, poll workers at the Riverhead Senior Center in Aquebogue were reporting a three-hour wait to vote at their early voting site, while reports were coming in from all across Long Island that early voting lines here were averaging around two-and-a-half hours.

The scenes were similar to those playing out in swing state early voting sites across the country, and were a stark contrast to a typical presidential election on the East End, where sleepy polling places are a hallmark of our civic life.

As they waited for the polls to open in Mattituck, many voters expressed their desire to get their vote over and done with, and their desire to know, in person, that their vote was going to count.

“I’m very decided on who I want to vote for,’ said Julie Osler of Southold as she waited in line, expressing a sentiment that frequently echoed through the crowd. “I want it out of the way and off of my plate. Nothing is going to change my vote at this point.”

“I’m concerned about voter repression. I want to make sure my vote is counted,” said Henry Randall of Peconic, citing “Donald Trump’s treasonous behavior” as a big concern.

Bill Zebroski of Southold had a trip to Mattituck planned for Saturday morning, and he said he “figured he would get it done” while he was there. He said he was a little bit surprised by the long line, but was willing to wait in it because he was already there.

(Clockwise from top left) Garance Werthmuller and Victoria Germaise of New Suffolk; Louise Harrison of Peconic, John and Maria DiBari of Southold; Rosa & Anthony Palmore of Riverhead; the line at the polls in Aquebogue at noon; K.C. Paling of Quogue with her daughters Piper and Paige; Bill Burkard of Mattituck and the line to enter the polling place in Mattituck.

John and Maria DiBari of Southold said they decided to vote early because they are moving to Florida on Monday had hadn’t yet registered to vote in their new home.

After voting, Mr. DiBari joked that he was sure his vote had just re-elected the president. He said he would have liked to have voted in Florida, a swing state where his vote might have proven more consequential, but he was happy to see that poll workers here were verifying peoples’ identity through their address and signature. On Election Day in New York, addresses and signatures had historically been in large paper binders at polling places, but during early voting that process is done electronically.

Bill Burkard of Mattituck, a 30-year Air Force Veteran who retired as Chief Master Sergeant at the 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton, said his first job in the Air Force was doing counterintelligence against the Soviets in East Germany, where he learned to speak Russian.

“I’m very interested in a change in government, because of my military experience,” he said. “I worked against the Soviet Union, and I’m not a big fan of Putin or our current president.”

Louise Harrison of Peconic said she always votes, and she misses the days when you had the visceral experience of going into a little booth and pulling a lever.

“I absolutely love voting,” she said, as she made her way down the socially distanced line into the polls.

Arlene Amato of Mattituck said she showed up early because “we have two choices and I want to make sure my choice goes in. I hope we make the right choice.”

She added that she is concerned about the effect the results of this election will have on future generations in this country.

Garance Werthmuller and Victoria Germaise of New Suffolk came together to the polls, and were on line well before they opened. Ms. Werthmuller brought a folding chair to wait.

“I want this to be done,” she said, exasperated, as she waited on line.

“I’ve been waiting four years for this,” said Ms. Germaise as she walked, determined, into the polling place. It was difficult to read her expression because she, like everyone else on line, was wearing a mask, but her eyes were smiling.

At the Riverhead Senior Center on Shade Tree Lane in Aquebogue, the line wound through the backyard picnic area and several times through the parking lot by mid-day, with many people on line saying they’d already been there for more than two hours.

Numerous police officers were on site directing traffic and providing updates to voters, some joking with people on line that they should have brought a barbecue for everyone. Two hungry voters asked a reporter with a notepad if she was taking sandwich orders.

Rosa Palmore and her husband Anthony, of Riverhead, had been waiting two-and-a-half hours, but Ms. Palmore said it was “worth every minute of it.”

“I always vote, but today it was even more important, to get our nation back to a place where all are valued,” she said. “There’s too much at stake for people not to come out.”

She cited social security, respect, Black Lives Matter and a broken economy as her top issues.

“I’m so thankful to see everybody wearing masks,” she said.

“I want to change the way the political scene is going,” said Mr. Palmore. “I want normalcy.”

K.C. Paling, of Quogue, brought her daughters Piper, 7, and Paige, 9, to vote in Aquebogue, after finding out it was the closest early voting place to home.

“I never had my children come with me to vote, and I thought it was important that they be here,” she said. “I had a conversation with them in the car about how it was not long ago that women didn’t have the right to vote.”

“It’s worth the wait,” said Paige. “It’s important to vote.”

Piper had no comment on the wait — she and her sister had been passing the time doing dance moves and cartwheels — but when asked how she would feel if women couldn’t vote she didn’t mince words.

“It’s not fair,” she said.

“We’re all human beings and we all bleed red,” Paige chimed in.

A voter named Nancy from East Moriches on line in Aquebogue said she and her husband had first gone to the early voting site in Mastic, but it was too crowded.

“We just want our vote to be counted,” she said. “We’re excited.”

Ivory Brown of Flanders said she decided to come on the first day of early voting “to give them more time to get the vote in.”

Anita Raum of Ridge said she came to Aquebogue to participate in early voting because she signed up to be a poll volunteer on Election Day, when she will have to work from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. at a site that isn’t her polling place. She also works during the week.

She said she’d seen pictures of the long lines at the Brookhaven early voting site and decided to come to Aquebogue instead.

“I had Covid-19 this spring,” she said, adding that she believed it was her civic duty to work at the polls on Election Day because she was less likely to get the virus again, and to make it easier for older poll workers, who are more at risk from the virus, to stay home.

Near the entrance to the senior center, volunteer Diana Filiano with the non-partisan group Election Protection was observing the polls.

“It’s a contentious election. We want to make sure people can exercise their right to vote without intimidation,” she said, adding that she’d heard from members of Election Protection all over the state that the wait times were about two-and-a-half hours.

Ms. Filiano got to the polling site about 9:30 a.m. and there was already a long line, which only grew as the day wore on.

“It’s being run very smoothly,” she said, adding that there had only been one incident all morning, in which a voter wore an inappropriate t-shirt to the polls and police discussed the matter with him.

“The police department has been very friendly, and they’re giving the right answers to voters,” she added.

Here’s more information on early voting in Suffolk County, which continues every day through Nov. 1.

Read Our Full 2020 Election Coverage

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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