By David Brand
The New York City Board of Elections will establish seven early voting sites in Queens, a crucial step to expanding voter access, but far fewer sites than city officials and voting rights advocates say is enough to ensure voter engagement.
The city had not published the specific locations of the early voting sites as of Wednesday night and an official from the Board of Elections told the Eagle that the agency had sent the information to the New York State Board of Elections for review. The state Board of Elections did not respond to request for comment.
The BOE announced it would set up 38 total early voting sites across the city. Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island will each have seven early voting sites, while Brooklyn will have ten.
Mayor Bill de Blasio had offered the BOE $75 million to establish 100 sites and denounced the Board’s more conservative early voting plan.
“Here come the excuses. the Board of Elections is already short-changing New Yorkers at the polls,” de Blasio tweeted Tuesday.
Under a new state law, New Yorkers will be able to cast their ballots at the polls ten days ahead of the Nov. 5 general election. The early voting period will last from Oct. 26 to Nov. 3. There will be no early voting on Nov. 4, the day before the election.
Though the initiative marks progress toward increasing voter engagement, Citizens Union Director of Public Policy and Programs Rachel Bloom criticized the seven-site proposal as insufficient to meet the needs of a borough with roughly 2.4 million residents.
“We’re going to have a logjam if we only have seven sites in Queens,” Bloom said.
Bloom said there were still a lot of questions left to answer about the initiative, which will require an intense public education campaign.
“Where to vote, how to vote,” she said. “You have to vote in your borough, so if you live in Queens and work in Manhattan, you can’t vote on your lunch break, but can you vote at any site in Queens?”
Early voting accessibility and information will be especially important for New Yorkers who work long hours and care for families, said Asian American Federation Executive Director Jo-Ann Yoo.
Yoo specifically cited the experiences of many members of the city’s Asian communities. In a report titled “Asian Americans in New York City: A Decade of Dynamic Change,” the AAF found that nearly half of registered Asian voters surveyed said they were “too busy” to vote.
“This is not surprising given the number of Asian small-business owners and low-income Asians working multiple jobs to make ends meet in our communities,” Yoo said in a statement. “Early voting will give these registered voters the ability to make their voices heard while accommodating their busy schedules.”
Bloom said the BOE would best serve Queens residents by locating the early voting sites near transit hubs.
She also questioned how the agency would determine which public spaces would be able to host the polls for more than a week.
Schools may be disqualified from hosting early voting because they cannot give up their cafeterias or other spaces for more than a day or two, Bloom said.
Special elections illustrate the problems that could arise from hosting polls while school is in session. At Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, dozens of adults filed into the cafeteria in the special election for public advocate alongside the school’s students in February.
The adults bypassed the metal detectors at the entrance to the cafeteria, but the students had to stand in line for scanning. Some voters looked like students, while others could pass for teachers or staff.
“It’s one thing for a school to give up their cafeteria for a day or two but a week and half is very difficult, Bloom said. “So we’re looking into public spaces, but also private spaces like storefronts, malls, places that are easily accessible by transit.”
This article is Part Two in a series about the impact of early voting in Queens.