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Southold saw more than 1,500 early voters in first year

Election Day is Tuesday, but thousands of New Yorkers have already cast their ballots as the state allowed early voting for the first time this year.

Early voting ran for nine days starting Oct. 26. Polls were closed Monday as election workers prepared for regular Election Day on Nov. 5.

Statewide, 256,251 residents voted early, according to preliminary data from the state Board of Elections.

That figure includes 17,012 voters in Suffolk County — just under 2% of the 977,134 registered active voters in the county.

Nassau, the sixth most populated county in the state, attracted the highest overall turnout among early voters with 30,018 residents voting over the nine-day period.

Locally, Southold led in early voting with 1,532 votes cast at the Human Resource Center in Mattituck. Riverhead’s polling place at the Aquebogue Senior Center drew 1,323 voters, according to data collected by the Suffolk County Board of Elections. Those figures do not necessarily reflect how many residents in each town voted early, since Suffolk County residents could vote at any of the 10 polling places, officials said.

Using a new electronic sign-in system via iPad, a voter’s town would display on the screen and their ballot for their town could be printed on-demand.

Around 2 p.m. at the Riverhead Senior Center Friday, nearly 20 people were waiting to check in and feed their ballot into the machine. Among those voters were Frank and Eileen Boccio of Remsenberg. Though they are Southampton residents, they opted to vote early in Riverhead since it was a closer drive than the Southampton Town polling location at the Stony Brook Southampton campus.

Ms. Boccio said she otherwise would not have been able to vote in this year’s election, since she would be babysitting her grandchildren in Nassau County overnight on Election Day.

Though she and her husband feel the state should impose voter ID regulations, they agreed that early voting is a step in the right direction. “The more we can encourage people to show up and vote, the better,” Mr. Boccio said.

Poll workers at both the Riverhead and Southold locations said early voting was off to a strong start and each had a “steady” stream of voters all day Friday.

Voters in both locations praised the measure.

“It’s a big help,” Elizabeth O’Reilly of East Marion said at the Human Resource Center in Mattituck Friday.

She said she works late and finds it difficult to get to the polls on Election Day.

“This gives me some options,” she said. “It’s nice to have it done.”

In several counties, including Nassau and Suffolk, Sunday, Nov. 3 saw the highest number of early voters throughout the nine days with 5,426 and 3,079 voters, respectively.

Albany, Dutchess, Monroe, Ononaga, Orange, Rockland, Ulster, and Westchester counties and New York City also saw the highest turnout on Sunday.

Co-executive director of the state Board of Elections Robert Brehm said that statewide, the process went smoothly.

“The voters seemed to like the convenience of not having to vote on just the one day,” he said in a statement.

According to the agency’s other co-executive director, Todd Valentine, statewide turnout was approximately 1.9% over the early voting period.

“With nothing to compare it to, we don’t know yet if that is high or low,” he said in a statement, noting that after the election is finalized, officials would meet with local commissioners and stakeholders to review the process ahead of the presidential election in 2020.

The election before a presidential election is traditionally the lowest year for turnout, with 17.33% in 2015 and 19.9% in 2011, according to Mr. Brehm.

“The true test will come in 2020, but I like to think we have laid a good foundation that we can build on,” he said.

New York is the 39th state to offer early voting to residents. It was passed by the State Legislature on Jan. 24, 2019. The legislation required at least one early voting site per county, and one site per 50,000 voters. Lawmakers additionally authorized electronic poll books be used to ensure voters can only vote once.

Advocates of early voting have said the measure will increase overall voter participation and ease lines at polling places on Election Day.

“We think it’s great,” said Debra Gudmundsen of Calverton, who voted Friday with her husband, George.

“It’s long overdue. We’re so progressive here, but New York has these archaic laws,” Mr. Gudmundsen said. “All new systems have their glitches, but it’s great to have the early voting. It should have been done a long time ago.”

In 2020, New York will have 27 days of early voting overall, nine each for the presidential primary, April 28, the state & federal primary, June 23, and the general election, November 3.

Caption: The senior center in Mattituck served as the location for early voting in Southold Town. (Credit: Tara Smith)

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