The lines on Long Island have been a sight to behold. Hundreds of people snaking around buildings, across parking lots, along sidewalks and through parks. They carry chairs and books and coffee containers and cellphones in hand, chatting with one another or keeping to themselves, waiting patiently to exercise their right to vote.
It’s been inspiring to see this mass affirmation of what it means to be a citizen of this country. But it shouldn’t be this frustrating.
No one would object to a moderate wait to cast a ballot. But two or three hours or even more, as was reported in various parts of the Island last weekend as more than 55,000 people voted early, is not acceptable.
This tsunami of interest was predictable. This is a highly contentious election in profoundly partisan times, during a pandemic that allows alternate ways of voting prior to Election Day. For months there have been stories about the ability of the U.S. Postal Service to promptly deliver mail-in ballots, compounded by a president who’s attacking the integrity of the election, with a focus on absentee ballots.
The Nassau and Suffolk boards of election need to re-crunch their numbers and come up with a better plan. Are the 15 polling places in Nassau and 12 in Suffolk really enough? With elections officials predicting weekends would be the most popular time to vote, why are polls generally open the shortest number of hours on weekends? Shouldn’t polls be open longer hours every day to make participation easier?
Do polling sites have enough scanners and enough space? Do they have enough personnel to check voters in and guide them through the process? Do those workers need better training? Are nine days of early voting enough? Boards of election are notoriously recalcitrant about making changes. That must end. Remember, as people experience early voting it is likely to become even more popular.
The state needs to adopt a better metric that will determine guidelines under which county boards operate. The number of sites, their geographic locations, and the hours they are open should be proportional to the population. The state and county boards should devise a faster way to count absentee ballots than the system that leads Suffolk, for example, to start its tally seven days after the election. And ballots must be redesigned to make them more readable and understandable.
Long Island’s boards of election also require tinkering. Both are patronage pits. Staying with the two-party system where both Democrats and Republicans name a commissioner to share responsibilities might not be the worst idea given what’s happening in states with one-party rule, but jobs beneath them should be subject to Civil Service-type vetting, not awarded by party bosses. New York is the only state with such a model.
The silver lining to heavy early turnout is that voting on Nov. 3 might be smoother than it would have been otherwise. But the goal is an efficient and easy process from beginning to end, each and every November.
— The editorial board