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Last in Line: Late-Shift Voters Escape Crowds on Quiet Election Day

The Brooklyn Museum was used as a poll site on November 3, 2020. The lines on election day were much less than during early voting.
The Brooklyn Museum was used as a poll site on November 3, 2020. The lines on election day were much less than during early voting.
Peter Senzamici/THE CITY

When Tracy Santos woke up on Election Day, she wasn’t planning to vote.

Her twins, who recently turned 18, pushed her to get to the polls, as did her husband who had voted early. Even her best friend called her Tuesday morning: They had made a plan to go vote together.

“I just ignored the call. I’m like, ‘Not in the mood,’” she said.

But 90 minutes before the polls closed in New York at 9 p.m., Santos changed her mind — and walked to her poll site at the Barclays Center, three blocks away.

“I was just like, you know what? I’ve been sick of watching the news. It’s stressing me out. Let’s do this vote,” she said.

She’d worn Crocs to stay comfy for what she thought would be a long wait. But within a few minutes, she was in and out of the arena, nearly empty on Tuesday night.

Ki Gomez voted at P.S. 20 in the Lower East Side, Nov. 3, 2020.
Ki Gomez voted at P.S. 20 in the Lower East Side, Nov. 3, 2020.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

She was among the last New Yorkers to cast ballots in the 2020 election, on a mostly quiet night following a bustling early voting period that drew 1.1 million people in the city.

On the Lower East Side, Ki Gomez, too, waited until the final hours of Tuesday to cast her first-ever vote.

The 19-year-old found the time to vote at P.S. 20 on Essex Street after a shift at Chipotle, and said “systemic racism” was among the many things she hopes whoever wins the presidency will address.

“I need competence. I need any kind of competence,” she said. “I’m a homeless 19-year-old with a lot of issues. I’m afraid of what’s going to happen tonight.”

‘Smooth as Butter’

At P.S. 41 in the West Village, Salvatore Pieroni, 26, ducked into the poll site near the wine bar where he works. The Bushwick resident knew he wouldn’t make it home in time to get to his local poll site before 9 p.m., so he voted with a provisional ballot.

It marked his first-ever vote.

“I decided that to do nothing is as bad as doing bad,” he said.

Pieroni said he felt a bit “ignorant” about how to vote and a little nervous walking in. But the poll workers were helpful and it took only minutes to cast his ballot.

“It was as smooth as butter,” he said.

Tracy Santos decided at the last minute to vote at the Barclays Center, Nov. 3, 2020.
Tracy Santos decided at the last minute to vote at the Barclays Center, Nov. 3, 2020.
Rachel Holliday Smith/THE CITY

On Staten Island, voting wasn’t so easy for Gradiah Watkins, from West Brighton. Watkins said he wasn’t going to vote, but his brother, Anthony, 20, who had voted early, convinced him on Tuesday night.

“A bunch of other things got ahead of me, and it’s too cold,” said Watkins, 24. “But he came upstairs and said ‘Come on.’”

The Board of Elections website sent the brothers to a Presbyterian church a half mile from their home. But when they arrived, it was closed.

The Watkins brothers said they searched for the correct site and were able to find their way to I.S. 27, where he cast his ballot. He was glad he did.

“I’m kind of a pessimist when it comes to voting. I always thought my one vote didn’t matter, but the last election disproved that,” he said.

Election Day passed with few major snafus at polling locations, and little activity on the streets as polls closed across the country. A small anti-Trump group rallied in Union Square around 9 p.m., but no major protests appeared elsewhere in the city.

Some stores on main thoroughfares in Manhattan and Brooklyn had boarded up windows and doors to prepare for possible unrest.

Across from the Barclays Center, a crew added plywood to the windows of a Party City on Atlantic Avenue just before polls closed. The workers said it was their fifth such job of the day.

At Trump Tower in Midtown, large NYPD trucks lined the street in front of the president’s former residence.

But reports of violence or friction were few — save for the scene at M.S. 88 in Brooklyn, where a Trump-supporting father and son duo cursed out voters waiting in line, and allegedly threatened to put one person “in the hospital,” the New York Post reported.

‘Better Than Staring at Your Phone’

For many, the day was slow — even a bit boring.

The Board of Elections hired 42,000 poll workers, many of them first-timers who stepped in because older workers, vulnerable to COVID-19, sat out this election.

At a Sunset Park warehouse on 52nd Street, more than 1,000 poll workers arrived at 5 a.m. for assignments throughout Brooklyn, said first-time election poll worker Emily S.

After having their temperature taken at the door, the workers sat inside the huge building for hours, killing time in folding chairs arranged on a grid marked off with yellow tape on the floor, said Emily, who didn’t want her last name used.

As of 11:30 a.m., about half were still unassigned. One worker passed around leftover Halloween candy to boost the mood.

Poll workers help people vote in Greenwich Village, Nov. 3, 2020.
Poll workers help people vote in Greenwich Village, Nov. 3, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Finally, after lunch, Emily and another worker were sent by car to a polling location at a public school in Flatbush.

When she arrived, she found a calm scene, with voters trickling in. By the end of the night, she counted about 10 voters who arrived between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

But that was just fine for the first-time poll workers. Most of them were “trying to avoid the outside world,” Emily said.

“I canvassed all new workers and most said they volunteered so they would have a distraction today,” she added.

People line up to vote in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020.
People line up to vote in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Justine Gomez, 35, a preschool teacher in Flatbush, was volunteering at the Brooklyn Museum with Elections Defenders, a group that aims to de-escalate tension at polls and help voters. But there was not much action, and not many voters.

“The only interesting thing that happened is that my toes froze, and I have pretty thick socks on,” she said.

Still, her fellow volunteer Eric Freedman, 54, thought it was a decent way to spend the evening.

“Better than staring at your phone or refreshing some website,” he said.

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