Amongst record-breaking turnout for the 2020 election, there is still one lingering issue that Suffolk County needs to correct for the many elections in our future, namely the dearth of early voting locations in the county.
In the midst of a pandemic, providing an opportunity for locals to vote earlier than Election Day made more sense than ever before. It was about keeping the number of people to a minimum to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Accommodating those who didn’t want to vote amongst crowds because they felt they would be at a higher risk to catch the coronavirus should have been at the utmost of priorities.
In Suffolk, past years have seen one early voting site per town, and this year the number of locations was increased to 12. Critics had lobbied for more than a dozen sites in the county, preferably 21, but the calls were met with compromise.
Well, the results are in and the critics were right. The slight bump in polling places wasn’t enough. People found themselves in line at early polling locations for hours. Lines at locations like Brookhaven Town Hall or Nesconset Elementary School snaked through parking lots and twisted around residential streets. As ridiculous as it sounds, people had to bring chairs with them to vote.
According to New York State law, the boards of elections should consider various factors when choosing a site including population density, travel time, proximity to other sites and how close it is to public transportation routes.
In Brookhaven, voters could find locations in Farmingville and Mastic but nothing on the North Shore. Smithtown residents had one location in Nesconset and many, once they discovered they would have to wait hours in line, traveled to Brentwood to vote early. In the TBR News Media coverage area from Cold Spring Harbor to Wading River along the North Shore of the Island — which can vary between 40 to 50 miles depending on what route a person takes — that Nesconset location was the only early voting polling place.
Of course, we realize one of the problems may be a lack of poll workers and volunteers. Hearing the concerns of many residents who are now shouting voter fraud and the like it’s ironic how more people aren’t willing to participate in one of the most important processes in America. Our suggestion to the Suffolk County Board of Elections: Make more of an effort in getting the word out that people are needed to help voters.
The long lines of people to cast an early vote proved that Suffolk residents wanted their voices to be heard. Those lines proved that the county and country need to rethink the early voting process.
Suffolk County needs to work out a funding stream that is dedicated to early polling places come Election Day, and the nation needs to have a serious conversation about standardized processes for mail-in ballots or early voting. At the same time, why not make Election Day a national holiday?
While the hope is that future election procedures won’t need to adhere to pandemic guidelines, offering a more flexible schedule enables people more than 15 hours on Election Day to have their say, no matter what their workday schedule or other responsibilities entail.
To have one day to vote may have worked in the early days of our country, but with the U.S. population increasing massively over the centuries, and people of color as well as women gaining the right to vote along the way, it’s time to expand to make sure every adult in America can vote no matter what their circumstances may be.