Polling station voters sign (79332)
Polling station voters sign Credit: Nia Sanders

Early voting for the primary election begins this weekend on Saturday, June 12 and lasts through June 20.

In an election year as packed as this one, primaries are a way to see who is the preferred candidate for a political party in a given race. It doesn’t guarantee that the winner in the primaries will also win in the general elections held in November, but it’s considered a no contest once they do.

2021’s primary elections will be for the offices of mayor, public advocate, city comptroller, city council, borough president, and various county judgeships. Districts 15 and 17 in the Bronx and 31 in Queens will also have to vote again to solidify their choices for city councilmembers from their Special Elections this and last year.

In all there are 10 early voting sites on Staten Island, 19 in Queens, 32 in Brooklyn, 22 in the Bronx, and 21 in Manhattan.

Early voting is relatively new to New York City elections since it was implemented in 2019 and was really put to the test last year during the pandemic. According to the Vote Early NY unofficial 2020 election results, 1,119,056 voters chose to vote early last year. The general presidential election turnout was 3,066,581 voters, said the BOE’s annual report for 2020.

Kate Doran of the League of Women Voters of the City of New York (LWVNYC) is a Board of Elections specialist and has been a poll worker since 2004. She attends the weekly meetings of the commissioners of the New York City Board of Elections (BOE).

“There’s definitely going to be COVID procedures in place for the primary this month. Same ones that we had in November [2020],” said Doran. “There’s going to be PPE. We’re going to have to wear masks, even though many of us are vaccinated.”

Doran said the BOE has hired a cleaning contractor, Quality Facilities Solutions, to clean the early voting sites after each day of voting. Doran said that the cleaning vendor was contracted to clean and sanitize 77 early voting sites, which is fewer than the total number of early voting sites, because some sites prefer to do their own cleaning.

She said that many early voting sites are also hooked up to additional generators because of the amount of energy required to run the print-on-demand machines, scanners, and other extremely expensive election equipment used for only early voting.

This year marks the first June primary that voters will be using Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) to select municipal officers. Doran noted that because both processes, meaning early voting and RCV, are so new there’s no real impact on voting itself that’s discernible from one or the other.

The logistics of how the ballot works are a little different but the outcome is the same with one winner in the end. Voters can now rank up to five candidates in order of preference for all races except the Supreme Court judge race, Civil Court judge race, and district attorney race, which will not be using ranked choice voting to determine a winner this year.

“I think it’s going to be like when people, for most it took a while to vote on a paper ballot and then scanning it, that ballot,” said Doran on how long it will take to adjust to a new system of voting. “It’ll take some time but just do the best you can. Go with it. And each time you’ll be more comfortable with it.”

The AutoMark displays each “choice” as a separate screen, said the Board of Elections. On the first screen, you will select your first-choice candidate and so on until all the choices are made. If it’s a paper ballot, the instructions on where to bubble in your choices will be at the top of the page.

To watch a video or see additional graphics on how to vote with RCV, check out the BOE’s website at vote.nyc/page/ranked-choice-voting.

To see a sample auto mark or paper ballot so it’s not a surprise once you get to the site, checkout findmypollsite.vote.nyc, put in your address, and then click view sample ballot at the top. The website generates a display of the candidates and a pdf version of a real ballot.

If you don’t have access to the internet or time, there will be voter education materials and assistance on site at each location to help people understand the ranked-choice voting selection process.

Rest assured ballots will be counted if you only choose one candidate instead of five, and if a mistake is made, a person has two additional chances to correct their choices before they have to use an affidavit, said Doran. An affidavit can’t be scanned through a machine.

As of now, said Doran, it’s uncertain how long it will take to fill out a RCV ballot. It really depends on the voter, she said.

“If you make a mistake, tell a poll worker and they will give you a new ballot. If you rank more than one candidate as one choice (for example, you put two people as your first choice), the machine will notify you of the error,” explained State Senator Zellnor Myrie’s spokesperson. Myrie (D-20) is chair of the Committee on Elections for the State Senate.

The BOE said that a candidate who receives more than 50% of first choice votes are deemed the winner. If no candidate earns more than 50% of first choice votes, then counting will continue in rounds until the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. “Results from the primary will take time, but not strictly because of ranked choice voting,” said the spokesperson.

“State law currently states that absentee ballots are not due to the Board of Elections until June 29. Voters who have curable defects/errors with their absentee ballots then must be notified and have up to a week to correct them. If you add in the July 4 holiday, it’s likely we won’t have certified results until the second week of July. This would be with or without RCV,” he continued.

Doran also advocated for voters to be patient about the results. They can’t start counting for at least two weeks after Primary Day on June 22, and then they are only final when made official by certification.

“The BOE is going to regularly publish unofficial results,” said Doran, “People want to hear on Election Night who won, but what they will get in any other, we’ll call it single-choice election, is unofficial results.”

You must vote at your assigned Early Voting Site, which is a different location from the Election Day site. Visit Poll Site locator at findmypollsite.vote.nyc to look up your specific Early Voting site, Election Day poll site, and District Information by address. There’s a general pollsite list of all locations posted on vote.nyc/page/primary-election-june-22-2021. You can also call for support at 1-866-Vote-NYC (1-866-868-3692).

The hours for early voting sites are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday, June 12 and Sunday, June 13.

On Monday, June 14 and on Friday, June 18 the hours are from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and from Tuesday, June 15 through Thursday June 17, the hours are from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Next Saturday on June 19, the early voting hours will be back to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but next Sunday on June 20 the sites will open at 8 a.m. and close an hour earlier at 4 p.m.

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