“I’ve heard anecdotally and we’ve seen from the data that some people live as much as a mile away from their early voting site,” said Laura Wood, a senior adviser and general counsel to the mayor’s DemocracyNYC initiative, which aims to increase voter participation. “We think that everyone should be able to vote at Madison Square Garden if they wanted to.”
Ms. Wood criticized the board for not being creative enough in picking additional sites, highlighting the potential for using empty retail stores, outdoor spaces and more cultural institutions, even though many museums have objected to serving as poll sites.
State law says there should ideally be at least one early voting site for every 50,000 voters, even though counties are not required to have more than seven locations.
But Manhattan, for example, has 16 early voting sites, or one for every 75,000 registered voters, while Queens has one location for every 72,000 voters. That ratio could place a larger strain on those locations than, say, poll sites in Staten Island, where 10 sites serve about 32,000 voters on average.
City officials estimate there should ideally be at least 104 early voting locations citywide. And forcing voters to go to one specific site, rather than allowing them to vote anywhere in the city or their borough, diminishes an important factor in getting people to the polls: convenience.
“Part of the idea of early voting is to have more opportunities for people to vote — weekend hours and evening hours and more days that you can do it — but that convenience is lessened when you give people fewer options for voting during that time period,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, a deputy director at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
Still, he noted that the effect of constraining a voter to a location in their neighborhood might be diluted with so many people working from home during the pandemic. Voters are also permitted to drop off their absentee ballot in person at any early voting location.