Voters on Election Day

A voter on Election Day in November 2019 at one of the local polling stations. (Photo by Casey Martin)

With Democratic primary elections being held for City of Ithaca Judge, Tompkins County District Attorney and the New York State 125th Assembly District, there was always going to be high interest in this year’s June elections.?

While a global pandemic threatened that, adjustments at the state level have helped mitigate the impacts of the coronavirus on voting, highlighted by expanding access to absentee ballots and the still young early voting program.?

In total, Tompkins County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner Steve DeWitt said 11,758 absentee ballots had been given out going into Election Day. As of late Monday, DeWitt said over 7,000 had been returned, with more sure to come during the Election Day session on Tuesday.?

According to DeWitt, 471 additional people voted at the two open locations during the week-long early voting period. While that may seem like a relatively small number, DeWitt said he was actually impressed with the usage considering the massive number of absentee ballots that were distributed.?

Perhaps the largest question will be what in-person voting figures look like amid a global pandemic. Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a set of executive orders to facilitate voting amid the coronavirus outbreak, the most significant of which required local boards of elections to mail absentee ballots to all eligible voters, likely boosting the number of people who opted to use an absentee ballot.?

“My sense is that it’s going to be quiet [on Election Day], but polls are going to be open,” DeWitt said on Monday.

Turnout numbers wil be difficult to compare to previous election years for a few different reasons. It’s been 20 years since there was an open Democratic primary in the 125th Assembly District, since Barbara Lifton has always been the Democratic choice since her first term. But with a competitive State Assembly race paired with judge and District Attorney elections, and considering the absentee ballot outreach, turnout could still be quite high. It’s already close to matching 2018’s turnout, which determined a competitive Democratic primary for the NY23rd Congressional District. In 2018, 9,114 total voters cast ballots in the NY23 race, compared to over 7,000 so far in 2020.?

The end of Election Day will also not bring much clarity to the various races: the thousands of absentee votes can’t be counted until July 1, and it will take nearly a week if not more to get through all the ballots after that point, DeWitt said.?

“It remains to be seen,” DeWitt said. “I’ve never counted this volume. We’ll have a couple of scanners that can tabulate the vote, but I would suspect that it will probably take four or five days. I’d love to be proven wrong, but I think it’s going to take quite a while.”

Complicating the count will be the long holiday weekend that will eliminate counting work after July 2 until July 6.?

“I’ve never had an election where 80 or 90 percent of the vote, who knows, is still outstanding after election day,” DeWitt said.

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