TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. –– Voters in Tompkins County got the chance to participate in early voting for the first time ever, this year.
In January, state lawmakers approved the New York State Early Voting Act, which gives New Yorkers extra time to cast their ballots.
“It gives people with their busy lives and all the things that they’re doing 60 hours over a nine day period to choose when they can vote rather than trying to find a time during one day,” said Stephen Dewitt, the Tompkins County Board of Elections Democratic commissioner.
From Oct. 26 to Nov. 3, polling places at the Tompkins County Crash, Fire, Rescue (CFR) Building and Ithaca Town Hall had ballots available that included candidates for supervisor, mayor, alderperson or councilperson and county and state judgeships, depending on where in the county each voter is registered.
Overall, 1,408 people utilized early voting in the county. 726 voted at the CFR building while 682 cast their ballots at the downtown polling site.
Michelle Widger lives in Etna, and she voted at the CFR Building.
“I’m going to be out of town on election day so it made sense to come and vote early,” she said. “It’s very convenient –– less than three miles from my house.”
She said the process of actually casting her ballot was convenient as well. “He’ll give you the correct ballot and off you go,” she said.
The Board of Elections used electronic voting machines, digital poll books and on-demand printers to determine and print out the appropriate ballot –– no matter where in the county you live.
“It’s new equipment,” Dewitt said. “It really gives us the flexibility to allow a voter from anywhere in the county to walk into either of the sites and sign in and prints a ballot that they should be voting on and we hand it to them. All that technology and all of that prep, certainly the first time through, it was a lot of work.”
City of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick cast his vote early this year on Tuesday at the Ithaca Town Hall on Tioga Street.
“This is the first year we’ve ever had early voting and I wanted to see how the experience was,” said Myrick. “I like voting. I don’t know if this makes me weird, but we always talk about voting as a duty and as a responsibility but it’s actually a lot of fun.”
He said he hopes that early voting will lead to a higher turnout overall.
“There can be any number of reasons why somebody isn’t able to vote on one particular day. Given more options I hope increases voter turnout,” added Myrick. “I think the more voter engagement we have in our system, the more inclusive our government will be…and the more tolerant and more progressive.”
Across New York, about 1.9% of registered voters participated in early voting, according to the New York State Board of Elections data released Sunday evening. Time will tell if that figure is high or low since this was the first year and this year’s elections are mostly local elections, which traditionally have lower turnout.
Regular voting will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 5 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. More information on where and how to vote is available at the Tompkins County Board of Elections website.
An audio version of this story aired on WRFI radio news on Nov. 4.