Saturday was the first day for early voting, and Tioga County’s site saw a steady stream of voters throughout the day. Lining up in the rain to vote may have dissuaded some voters, but by the end of the day the Tioga County Board of Elections reported that 677 people had cast their ballots.
The polling place, at the Tioga County Board of Elections, opened its doors to the public at 9 a.m. At 9:30 a.m. there were 51 people waiting in line outside, with more people inside casting their ballots.
“This is the way it works,” an election official announced to the people waiting outside. “Because of social distancing we can only allow 21 people inside at one time.” She also asked for people in line to allow room for those leaving the polling place, as there was only a single entrance.
Voters were required to wear masks and, once inside, received a spritz of hand sanitizer. Strips and arrows marked six-foot spacing along the hallway, and traffic followed a one-way loop. After the last turn, an election inspector held the line and directed voters to poll book stations as they became available.
Tioga County converted to electronic poll books about a year ago, and during the pandemic they have come up with strategies to make voting in person safer. Instead of using a stylus for signing in, they provided Q-tips which each voter could drop into a trash bag taped to the table. Once voters get their ballot, they pick up a pen and head to a voting booth. Voters slide their own ballots into the scanner — there are no privacy sleeves this year so just turn it upside down, and drop pens into a container. That’s it for the voter.
For the election inspectors there is a bit more involved. In addition to wiping down surfaces, they also wipe down all used pens with disinfectant before returning them to the check-in table.
One voter in line Saturday morning expressed surprise at how many people had showed up so early on a Saturday. Another said she was happy that New York has early voting. Especially now, trying to balance work and children doing distance learning, she was not sure she could make it to the polls on Election Day.
Other people just wanted to get their vote counted as soon as possible. That reflects a national trend showing that, by Saturday, more people have casted early votes this year than the total number of early votes in the 2016 election.
Early voting ends Sunday, Nov. 1. For all Tioga County residents, early voting takes place at the Tioga County Board of Elections, 1062 State Route 38, Owego. This week the polls are open for early voting at these times:
•Wednesday, Oct. 28 from noon to 8 p.m.
•Thursday, Oct. 29 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
•Friday, Oct. 30 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
•Saturday, Oct. 31 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
•Sunday, Nov. 1 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
There is a drop box for absentee ballots up at the county building as well. Bipartisan election staff empty the drop box daily, and voters may drop off their ballots until 9 p.m. on Election Night, Nov. 3. You can also drop off voted absentee ballots directly at the Board of Elections from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. If you still have your absentee ballot on Election Day, you can drop it off at any polling location. Absentee voters dropping off completed ballots may bypass any line and proceed to the table near the entrance that is marked with a sign indicating “Absentee Ballot Drop-Off.”
For the readership of this newspaper, the local polling locations for the General Election on Nov. 3 are the Spencer Town Hall, Barton Town Hall, Lockwood Fire Department, Candor Fire Station and Weltonville Fire Company.
For more information, questions or help regarding voting, please visit the Tioga County Board of Elections website at tiogacountyny.com/departments/board-of-elections or call (607) 687-6348.