Hours before early voting started in New York on Saturday morning, Cliff Woodson set out on foot from his home near the Brooklyn Bridge to his poll site at the Barclays Center.
He never intended to be the first person in line, he said. But the self-described earlybird and youth basketball coach arrived so early — 6:15 a.m. — that no one else was around. To kill time, he went to Dunkin’ Donuts — and was still the only person outside the Barclays when he got back.
“Nobody’s guaranteed tomorrow. So, I’m up early,” Woodson, 65, told THE CITY as he waited to cast his ballot at the arena, turned into a voting site for the first time to allow for social distancing amid the pandemic.
By the time the doors opened at 10 a.m., hundreds of New Yorkers eager to vote at the earliest opportunity had joined Woodson. With chairs, books and snacks to make the wait easier, they formed a line that snaked south on Flatbush Avenue, east on Dean Street and north on Sixth Avenue, where it doubled back.
Early voting sites across the city mirrored the Barclays scene, with enthusiastic New Yorkers queuing up for hours. Some voters at the Brooklyn Museum swarmed the doors at 10 a.m., briefly overwhelming poll workers and a single cop.
By the end of the Day One, nearly 94,000 had cast ballots across the city.
A Garden Party
At Madison Square Garden, also drafted into action as a socially distanced polling spot, voters reported about a two-hour wait.
Isabella Green, 19, and her mother Marise Santo, 50, who live in Chelsea, were among the first in line at the Manhattan arena.
The duo, like many New Yorkers who spoke with THE CITY, said they wanted to make sure their votes would be properly recorded, and hoped to avoid a potential crush of people on Election Day. Others said that even with mail-in voting available, they wanted to leave nothing to chance, especially given the recent snafu with absentee ballots in Brooklyn.
“We don’t want to miss it, we want to make sure we are counted,” Santo said.
This year marked Green’s first election as a voter after accompanying her mom to the polls for years.
“I know how important it is,” Green said. “I always watched her vote so I knew how to do it.”
Democracy in Motion
At the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, a line of voters snaked around the blocks surrounding the 35th Avenue building.
Michele Talarico, 66, a retired elementary school teacher from Astoria, was first in line. She woke up at 5 a.m. and arrived on foot around 7:30 a.m.
“I couldn’t wait to vote. I’ve been waiting four years to vote,” Talarico said. “I wanted to make sure that I have the pleasure of filling out my ballot.”
To be safe, she brought an already-filled-out mail-in ballot to drop off, just in case “it was crazy” at the polls, she said.
“It’s a privilege to vote, and a responsibility,” she said.
Priscilla Martinez, 80, a retired Woodside resident, was seventh in line at the site in the home borough of President Donald Trump.
She said she was motivated to cast a vote for Joe Biden.
“Everything you hear is the nasty things that the president is doing, and it’s not right. It’s not right. In all my years, I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.
Drawing a Crowd
Rosemarie Cook, 61, a hospital administrator, arrived at 6:15 a.m at the Brooklyn Museum poll site with her friend Lilly Lanigault, 72, after seeing reports of long lines and issues at the polls in other states.
“I always vote on the day-of. But I thought because of what happened in Georgia, it prompted me to come early,” she said.
Cook said things were calm until poll workers arrived at 9 a.m. They struggled to organize the line and answer questions about where seniors and disabled voters could sit to wait.
“I’m a senior and I’m not giving up my spot for anybody,” Lanigault said.
Because of the confusion, voters crowded the poll site doors as they opened at 10 a.m., with some banging on the glass windows of the museum atrium.
Poll workers, some shouting, tried to maintain order. After voters started cycling through, the situation calmed, but long lines remained.
Jennifer Grannum, 72, came to vote at the Brooklyn Museum straight from a night shift as a nursing administrator at Mount Sinai Hospital. She arrived at 8:15 a.m. with her daughter, Shonelle Williams, who said the poll workers weren’t well organized.
“For the first day, you gotta come with your patience,” Williams said.
Some Early Snags
At the Barclays Center, 52-year-old Anthony Branch was excited to cast his first-ever ballot after years of feeling like voting was “useless,” he said, for “an African-American living in Brooklyn.”
“They’re not gonna do nothing for me,” he said. “That’s the way I felt all my life. But this time, I have to at least try.”
The Bedford-Stuyvesant native got up early and drove to the arena when just a few people were in line He gave folding chairs he had in his truck to two older women waiting in front of him.
But when workers from the Board of Elections came through the line to make sure everyone was in the correct location, he discovered Barclays is not his assigned early voting site.
Each voter has a specific early and Election Day voting location, which can be found using this look-up tool from the city Board of Elections.
Woodson, the first person in line at Barclays, ran into a headache, as well. At his election district’s table inside, the poll workers had some technical difficulties: An iPad wasn’t working correctly, he said, and wasn’t syncing with a BOE computer.
But after about 45 minutes, he cast his ballot and was ready to eat a proper meal — the first of the day for him.
“My vote’s in and I’m going to have breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he said as he put on an “I Voted” sticker and headed out the door.
‘A Feeling of Relief’
Because of the delay, the second and third people in line at the Barclays Center — Umi Shakti and her mother, Norma Maupins — got to cast their ballots first.
The Fort Greene residents camped out in front of the arena before the sun came up, armed with chairs and books.
“We waited in the dark with the pigeons,” Shakti said.
It was important for them to get there on the first day after hearing reports of “so much contention” around the voting process elsewhere in the country this year, Shakti said.
Maupins said reports of voter intimidation made her particularly anxious.
“To be in a place where we’re over it, we’ve finished the process — it’s definitely a feeling of relief,” she added.
Getting an Early Start
Are you planning to vote early in New York City? Early voting runs through Nov. 1 — two days before in-person voting on Nov. 3.
- Click here to find your early and Election Day poll sites.
- Click here to see a list of early poll sites by borough and their hours.
To help voters get to the polls, a number of companies and organizations are offering help to people casting ballots:
- The taxi app Curb is giving a $5 discount to the first 5,000 early voters who use the code “VoteEarly” upon requesting a taxi.
- Dominicanos USA is offering free rides to poll sites in Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood. Call (718) 665-0400 for more information.
- Lyft is offering 50% off one ride to an early voting poll site. Use the code NYCVOTES when requesting a ride.
- Uber on Nov. 3 will be offering an in-app poll-finding feature and 50% off rides to the polls — up to $7 per trip.