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Polls close on Long Island after strong voter turnout

Voting stations opened across Long Island at 6 a.m. Tuesday and will remain open till 9 p.m. Voters will cast their ballots in key races -- for Congress, governor and the State Legislature. (Credit: Newsday)

Voter turnout in Nassau and Suffolk counties was strong Tuesday, as Long Islanders cast ballots in races for Congress, governor, the State Legislature and other offices, election officials from both major parties said.

Voters headed to the polls amid heightened political interest sparked by the election of Republican President Donald Trump in 2016. Polls closed at 9 p.m.

In Suffolk, turnout was far higher than in a typical midterm election, though not quite as high as the 2016 vote highlighted by the race between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Turnout clocked in at 38.6 percent as of 4 p.m., compared with 24.1 percent at the same time in the last midterm vote in 2014, Suffolk officials said. Two years ago, turnout as of 4 p.m. was 51 percent, Suffolk Republican election commissioner Nick LaLota said. 

He said poll workers reported heavier than normal turnout at many locations.

“We're hearing anecdotal feedback ... that it feels like a presidential year,” LaLota said..

Nassau Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs said turnout appeared to be high across the county, in Democratic as well as Republican strongholds. Numbers in Nassau were not available.

“It’s excellent,” Jacobs said shortly before 11 a.m. “All of the polling places are reporting lots of people. ... We’re seeing a real solid turnout. It looks to me like across the board.”

Anner Ulloa, 31, of Huntington Station, voted with his daughter at Silas Wood School in Huntington and took her photo in front of the polling place sign. Officials said turnout at the school was steady.

“I just want to exercise my right to vote,” Ulloa said. “With everything going on in politics, we all have an opinion, and we should contribute if we want to make a change.”

Moriah Rastegar, 20, of Old Westbury, voted between classes at Adelphi University in Garden City. She said the midterms are more important than the presidential elections.

“That impacts us more because it’s where we live," she said. "This isn’t something happening outside the vicinity. This is us.”

Polling place complaints

Officials said they responded to complaints of irregularities at polling places in both counties.

Bonnie Garone, a Democratic Party lawyer in Nassau, said a board of elections troubleshooting team investigated a complaint that poll workers at an Island Trees middle school were refusing to direct voters to their proper voting stations, but found no problems. “Everything’s in order,” Garone said.

She said the complaints seemed typical for such a large number of voters. “We’ve had much worse," Garone said. "It’s a normal, busy voting day.”

LaLota said there were no reports of excessive lines at polling places or parking issues that prevented people from voting. He said some machines were reported broken, “but we remedied that right away.”

LaLota said he took a call from a voter who reported receiving incorrect information from North Babylon poll workers regarding the state Supreme Court justice race. For that race, Suffolk voters could vote for up to seven candidates — but workers told the voter he could choose only one, LaLota said. He told the voter to fill out an affidavit ballot, which would be counted after polls close.

“The ballot speaks for itself: vote for any seven," LaLota said. "The voter is entitled to vote for anything up to seven.”

Voters hoping to cast ballots at Plainview-Old Bethpage Library found it was closed due to construction and they were directed to Plainview-Old Bethpage Middle School, officials said.

In Freeport, two polling stations received incorrect ballots that could not be scanned, a problem that a bipartisan team swiftly corrected, a spokeswoman for the county Board of Elections said by telephone. “I don’t know how that happened and it will be investigated,” she said.

Ballots are customized for different districts. There are about 50 ballot styles, and the machines are programmed to accept only the correct style, she said. Ballots could still be scanned at one of the two polling stations, where a neighboring district had the same style, she said.

At the other location, however, the ballots had to be locked and sealed under emergency procedures, she said. They will be counted with the paper absentee ballots starting in a week, she said.

The confusion upset Patrick Grey, 62, of Freeport, who was still concerned about whether his vote at Bayview Avenue School would be counted after reporting the problem to the Board of Elections and local officials.

“They promised me the votes will be counted ... it didn’t really give me any reassurance,” he said.

'A very important election'

Across Long Island, voter sentiment reflected the national divide over Trump's presidency and issues such as immigration and health care.

At Howard B. Mattlin Middle School in Plainview, Cheryl DiGangi, 69, said she was “voting Republican, because I support the [Trump] administration, what it stands for, what it’s accomplished.”

On the local level, she said she would vote for Republican Dan DeBono, who’s challenging Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove). She said she was a longtime Democrat who became a Republican during the Clinton administration. She said that she supports capitalism and strong borders, and that the Democratic Party is “going so left wing. It’s scary.”

Cars pulled up to the parking lot and voters popped open their umbrellas.

Ira Holzsager of Plainview said, “I hope the rain does not hold back the turnout in order to bring about change.”

Ellen Aronson had to drive to her Melville polling place twice on Tuesday. The first time around, the parking lot was full.

“It’s a very heavy turnout,” said Aronson, 72, after casting her vote in West Hollow Middle School. “People are beginning to realize that the way to change things is to get out and make our voices heard.”

Aronson, a Democrat, declined to say how she voted, except that she divided her ticket.

“I think it’s a very important election,” she said.

At Jericho Senior High School, Carly and Michael Goodman brought their son to their first time voting in midterms.

“If it wasn’t as divisive, I don’t think I’d be here today,” Michael Goodman said.

“I’ll always vote [from now on]," Carly Goodman said. "It did change my mind going forward to not close my mind.”

At Dryden Street School in Westbury, Antonio DaSilva, 52, and his daughter Samantha, 20, of Westbury, said they voted straight Republican because they believe Trump and the GOP are fighting for the middle class.

“I’m sick and tired of giving, giving, giving, because I’ve given everything to everyone and I should be entitled to something,” said Antonio DaSilva.

DaSilva said Trump “does lie a little bit. He’s a clown. ... But he’s doing a fantastic job. He’s trying to help the middle class. The Democrats want to give more and more to the poor people.”

DaSilva immigrated from Portugal at age 7 and said “this country is built on immigrants.” But he said he supports measures to crack down on illegal immigration, and that is a factor in his support for Republicans.

“Come in the way I came in,” he said. “Come in here legally. They bring up racism. But I don’t care if you’re black or Asian or purple. I don’t care who you are. Just come here legally.”

Raymond Escobar, 30, of Westbury, voted for incumbent Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City).

Escobar, who is not registered with any party and has in the past voted for Republicans, opposes Trump and said he hopes the Democrats gain a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives to provide more balance and push Trump to compromise.

“I hope it evens things out just a bit with anything the president is throwing out there,” said Escobar, who works in banking compliance.

Saadi Zakir, 67, of Brentwood, says he’s been voting since becoming a U.S. citizen in the early 2000s. In Brentwood, he worries about crime. He owns a video game store in Jamaica, Queens, and says he’s hopeful his vote will make a difference.

“If there is a change, maybe business will pick up,” he said.

A steady stream of voters came in the rain to the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai on Tuesday afternoon.

George and Mary Mladek of Mount Sinai, said they don’t typically vote in midterm elections, but were driven by dissatisfaction with Trump and unhappiness with the direction of the country.

“It’s going crazy,” said George Mladek, 69, an optometrist. “Not only with Trump, but Republican control of Congress.” He’s concerned about social programs as well, such as Medicare.

Giacomo Mulé, a 55-year-old horticulturalist from Mount Sinai, said he came to “vote the Republican line.” Normally he splits his vote between Democrats and Republicans.

He didn’t vote for Trump two years ago but said he thinks the president is doing “pretty good.”

“I can’t stand people trying to tell me who to vote for,” he said. “I can’t stand the political correctness.”

A nationwide referendum

Mulé was among the voters across America picking congressional representatives and governorships and voting in a host of local races amid heightened political interest.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is running for a third term against Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, while Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is seeking to fend off a challenge from Republican Chele Farley.

Nationwide, the battle for control of the House and the U.S. Senate, both in Republican hands, is viewed by many voters and political experts as a referendum on Trump's performance.

During the campaign, the president focused on immigration, while Democrats highlighted concerns about health care.

On Long Island, the re-election bids of Long Island's two Republican congressmen — Lee Zeldin, who represents the 1st District, and Peter King, the longtime incumbent in the 2nd — became multimillion-dollar battles. 

Both of their Democratic challengers said they were motivated to run by Trump's election in 2016.

Zeldin, of Shirley, is facing East Hampton commercial real estate lender and Democrat Perry Gershon. King, of Seaford, is being challenged by Liuba Grechen Shirley, of Amityville, a progressive Democratic activist with economic development experience.

In total, Long Island voters were able to choose from 162 candidates running for 71 elected positions.

All nine Long Island State Senate seats are up for election, positioning Long Island to play a pivotal role in the fight for control of the State Senate, where Republicans have a narrow margin of control.

Also, 22 state Assembly seats and 29 judgeships are up for election. There also are town board seats in play in East Hampton, Babylon, Smithtown and Huntington.

In Suffolk's 3rd Senate District, Assemb. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) is facing Suffolk County Legis. Monica R. Martinez (D-Brentwood) for the open seat that GOP state Sen. Tom Croci, of Sayville, is giving up to return to the U.S. Navy.

In Nassau, veteran state Sen. Carl L. Marcellino (R-Syosset) chairman of the Education Committee, is facing a challenge in the 5th District seat from Democrat James Gaughran, chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority. Marcellino narrowly beat Gaughran two years ago.

In the 8th District in Nassau, freshman Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford) faces Republican Jeffrey Pravato, mayor of Massapequa Park.

In other competitive Senate races, Democratic North Hempstead Town Board member Anna Kaplan is challenging freshman Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) in the 7th District. In the 4th District, Democrat Louis D'Amaro, a former Suffolk County legislator, faces Republican Sen. Philip Boyle.

In closely watched races nationwide, Democrat Stacey Abrams seeks to become the nation's first female African-American governor as she faces Brian Kemp, a Republican, in Georgia. If neither wins a majority, the race would go to a Dec. 4 runoff.

In the gubernatorial battle in Florida, which could be a pivotal swing state in the 2020 election presidential election, Republican Ron DeSantis faces Democrat Andrew Gillum.

Turnout in states with early voting has been heavy among both Democrats and Republicans. 

In New York, absentee ballots requests surged compared with the last midterm election in 2014. Those votes, which will not be included in Tuesday night's unofficial tally, could become crucial in tight races.

Suffolk's number of absentee ballots sent out grew to 40,216 as of the eve of the election, more than double the 16,453 absentees sent out four years ago. Of those ballots, 26,120 had been sent back, with voters registered as Democratic having an edge.

As of Tuesday morning, 34,225 absentee ballots were requested in Nassau, with 23,503 returned and voters registered as Democrats again returning more ballots..

With John Asbury, Rachelle Blidner, Rick Brand, Vera Chinese, Jesse Coburn, Scott Eidler, Joan Gralla, David Olson, Antonio Planas and Ted Phillips

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