Voting Choice Overload

Pictured Above: The community center at Glenwood Village was one of just two Riverhead polling places open for the 2020 Democratic Primary 2020

We’ve been inundated here in the past month with inquiries from people who are concerned about their ability to vote in the November 3 election. Many of them cite concerns about potential polling place closures or about whether absentee ballot applications will actually reach the Suffolk County Board of Elections, and if voters will receive the absentee ballots they request due to postal delays.

The national concern about the legitimacy of the election aside, on the East End we will all have more options than usual for how to vote this November, and the plethora of choices seems to be causing more anxiety, not helping the situation.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed so much about the way we live, and voting can’t help but change as well. Though we’ve all seen television footage of people waiting in line at polls throughout the country this spring, East Enders have rarely encountered lines when they go to vote, and the process here is generally a smooth one. Even after New York switched to paper ballots after the election debacle of the year 2000, voters here seemed to easily adapt.

But this year, every action we take is a complicated risk-reward scenario. While we’re busy pondering whether to wipe down our groceries with bleach and with whom among our family members it is safe to share an elbow-bump hello or a Sunday dinner, every decision we make has become fraught.

So, before you decide how you plan to vote, take a deep breath. Examine all the options and decide which one works best for you. Make a decision and then implement it fully.

If you decide that voting in person is too risky for you, New York State is again allowing anyone to vote using an absentee ballot, like the state did in this spring’s primary. You simply need to check off “temporary illness or disability” on the application as your reason for voting absentee. 

The New York State Board of Elections has just recently put together an online form to allow you to request a ballot online, which takes the U.S. Postal Service out of the first part of the voting equation. You will still need to mail in your ballot after you fill it out.

If you don’t want to use the online form, you will need to request a ballot application. One will not automatically be mailed to you, as was done for voters in this spring’s Democratic primary. You can request an absentee ballot application now by calling the Suffolk County Board of Elections (631.852.4500). The application is also on the New York State Board of Elections website in English and in Spanish.

We’ve heard concerns from voters that this form says it was updated back in 2015, but we’ve been assured by the Suffolk County Board of Elections that it is the current and valid absentee ballot application.

The application should also be available at post offices and libraries, though we’ve heard mixed reports on this. 

The application must be returned to the Board of Elections before Oct. 27, but the earlier you return it, the better. Absentee voters who waited until the last minute had the most difficulty getting a ballot this spring, and that is likely to be the case again this fall.

Many voting advocates believe the absentee ballot process is fraught with potential for difficulties, including postal delays and the lengthy process involved in counting all the ballots. It’s safe to say results will be delayed throughout the United States due to absentee ballots, and we may not know who won the presidential race until well after Election Day. 

This is a process we have no choice but to accept. New York alone is expecting to receive as many as five million completed absentee ballots for the November election — that’s about a quarter of the state’s population.

The best way for anyone planning to vote by mail to counteract potential delays is to request your absentee ballot now and keep in touch with the Suffolk County Board of Elections at 631.852.4500 if you experience any hangups throughout the process.

If you don’t apply online, ballot applications must be mailed to the Suffolk County Board of Elections at 700 Yaphank Ave., Yaphank, NY 11980-0700 or be hand-delivered to the Board of Elections office at 700 Yaphank Avenue in Yaphank during business hours. Applications must be returned to the Suffolk County Board of Elections, not the New York State Board of Elections.

When you receive your ballot, read the instructions carefully, and return it as soon as possible.

We are lucky here that New York instituted early voting during last year’s local elections, ironing out some of the kinks in the new process before this banner election year. 

Suffolk County is expanding the number of early voting locations this fall due to the popularity of the program, but that expansion as of press time will provide three extra polling places in western Suffolk and eliminate the early voting location at the Shelter Island American Legion. State lawmakers are lobbying for this to change, but early voting on Shelter Island remains an unknown. The Mattituck Senior Center at 750 Pacific Street, Riverhead’s Senior Center at 60 Shade Tree Lane in Aquebogue, Stony Brook Southampton College at 70 Tuckahoe Road and East Hampton’s Windmill Village at 219 Accabonac Road are the East End’s currently designated early voting locations.

Early voting runs from Saturday, Oct. 24 through Sunday, Nov. 1, and residents can vote at any of the locations in the county — election officials will print out a ballot on-site for the voter’s home district. Here are the details on hours and locations of early voting in Suffolk.

With all the other options available, voting on Election Day appears to be the riskiest bet this year. The Suffolk County Board of Elections dramatically consolidated polling places at the last minute in this spring’s Democratic primary, and while there weren’t reports of overcrowded polls then, more than 80 percent of voters in Suffolk’s Democratic Presidential Primary voted by absentee ballot this spring.

We haven’t heard yet about whether there will be poll consolidations on Election Day in November, but we’re not about to take the risk here of waiting until Election Day to find out if there will be lines at the polls.

Make a plan early, and then act on it. We all still have time to ensure that our votes count.

Editor’s Note: The New York State online portal to request a ballot had not been unveiled at the time the print edition of this article was published. The article above reflects the new information received since press time.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, 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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