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Early voting starts in New York Saturday. Here’s what you need to know

Tom Dinki/WBFO file photo
Voters submit their ballots at the Harlem Road Community Center in Ahmerst during early voting in 2019. Early voting this year starts Saturday.

Early voting in New York state starts Saturday and runs through Nov. 1. It’s the second year New Yorkers have the option to vote early, but it’s taken on greater importance this year with a presidential election and COVID-19 pandemic that necessitates social distancing. Here’s what you need to know.

Hours and locations


Early voting across New York starts Saturday and runs through Nov. 1. Exact locations and hours will depend on where you live. 


In Erie County, early voting will take place at 37 polling locations, and run from noon to 6 p.m. on weekends, and from noon to 9 p.m. on weekdays. Jeremy Zellner, Erie County Democratic elections commissioner, said county residents can vote at any of the 37 sites, not just their designated polling place. 


“We've got nine sites alone just in the city of Buffalo that folks can choose,” Zellner said. “They go to one and if there’s a big line, they can go check out another location and they have nine days.”

Potentially long lines

Long lines have been an issue in other states where early voting has already begun, like Georgia and Ohio. Activists recommend voters bring umbrellas, bottles of water and any necessary medication with them to the polls.


There may be good reason to be worried about long lines in Erie County, which had a high early voter turnout last year. Erie County saw 4.2% of its registered voters choose to vote early, which was higher than the statewide average of 1.9% and the highest among the state’s 10 largest counties. 


Despite this, Zellner said he doesn’t anticipate long lines here, in part because a large number of county voters are planning to use absentee ballots. About 95,000 county residents have already requested an absentee ballot. That’s about 15% of all registered voters in the county.


Absentee voters can actually turn in those ballots at early voting sites.


“There'll be a drop box there with the election inspector that they don't have to wait in line for,” Zellner said. “They can leave it and go home.”


Voting early despite having an absentee ballot


If you request, or even submit, an absentee ballot, you can technically still vote early or on Election Day in person. Your absentee ballot will be thrown out and your in-person vote will be counted.


“That's why we can't count the ballots right away,” Zellner said. “We have to wait until we get everything in the mail back that is a proper ballot. And then we pull any absentees of someone who may have voted on election day or early voted.” 

Early votes don’t get counted early


There’s concern about a delay in election results given the high number of absentee ballots across the country, and voting early could potentially help what figures to be a frantic process. However, if you’re voting early, that doesn’t mean your vote will be counted early. Election officials can’t actually start counting early ballots until 8 p.m. on Election Night.


With absentee ballots potentially still arriving in the mail up to two weeks after Election Day, Zellner said close races shouldn’t be called on Election Night.


“We think there are going to be several races we can call on Election Night,” he said, “but really, if there is a close race, no one should be declaring victory on Nov. 3.”

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.