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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

In Nassau, Suffolk, there's a whole lot of voting going on

A voter in a booth on Election Day,

A voter in a booth on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2011, at Alleghany Avenue Elementary School in Lindenhurst. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

"We're walking and chewing gum," Nicholas LaLota, Suffolk's Republican elections commissioner, said Friday.

That's one way of putting it, as Long Island's elections officials — who already are handling the largest number ever of absentee ballot requests — turn their attention to the nine days of early, in-person voting coming their way soon.

As of last week, Suffolk had received almost 175,000 requests for absentee ballots, while Nassau was handling some 167,000 requests.

But even as those numbers were tallied, requests continued to pour in.

"We're getting 1,000 to 3,000 requests through the state [elections] portal," said James P. Scheuerman, Nassau's Democratic elections commissioner.

And, both commissioners said, their employees also are fielding a lot of voter questions, assertions borne out Friday by a 10-minute wait to talk to a representative in Nassau. (The recording, however, was friendly, and both helpful and accurate in predicting wait times.)

In both counties, requests from Democrats outnumber those from Republicans and voters with no political party affiliation.

That follows a national trend that predates the 2020 election season.

Overall, national studies show, Democrats tend to vote by mail when the option is available, while Republicans prefer to hit the polls on Election Day.

As of last week, both county boards of election were seeing high numbers of absentee ballot returns.

In Nassau, 34% of absentee ballots already sent out had been returned as of last week.

Suffolk did not have a precise comparison. But commissioners in both counties agreed that the number of absentee ballots returned so far already dwarf the number of such ballots returned during the entire 2016 presidential race.

The historically high number of absentee ballot requests, driven largely by voter concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, could impact local races, too.

In the 2nd Congressional District, with one of Long Island's rare open seats, there's a record of almost 42,000 ballot requests so far. The number from Democrats is roughly double the number from Republicans.

That race, between Republican Andrew Garbarino, a state assemblyman, and Democrat Jackie Gordon, a former Babylon Town councilwoman, is drawing national attention for a South Shore district that spans communities in Nassau and in Suffolk.

Come next Saturday, Long Island's boards of elections will add responsibility for early voting to their workload.

There are multiple voting sites in Nassau and in Suffolk, with varying days and hours.

And officials in both counties believe that early voter turnout could be unusually heavy as well.

"Last year, the first year of early voting, was like a practice," for the presidential election, LaLota said. "We did well and we learned a lot."

While some election officials will be on site for early voting this year, others will continue processing the mound of absentee ballots.

The last day to request an absentee is Oct. 27; mailed ballots need to be postmarked by Nov. 3.

"I'd like to see them returned to us as soon as possible," Scheuerman said, noting that absentees could end up counting for as much as a third of Nassau County's total vote.

And as those ballots come back, election workers will continue their already ongoing process of verifying, sorting and storing them in secure premises.

Once in-person early voting ends, the boards will prepare for Election Day, Nov. 3 — all while still continuing to process absentee ballots, none of which will be counted until seven days after Election Day.

If someone votes at a polling place after having returned a completed absentee ballot, elections workers will pull the absentee ballot because the in-person vote already was counted, officials said.

Scheuerman said Nassau has brought on additional workers.

And Suffolk has as well.

"We're ready, and we're already working weekends," LaLota said. "We'll be walking, chewing gum and juggling."

IN-PERSON EARLY VOTING

Election workers, already processing a mountain of absentee ballots, are getting ready for in-person early voting, which starts next Saturday.

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