Large numbers of people have come out to vote early in the city’s mainland borough. But will the large distances between early-voting sites keep some voters away?

Anna Deen/Datawrapper

Early voting sites in the Bronx.

For the first time, registered voters in New York City are able to vote in a general election in one of three ways: early voting in person, voting in person on Election Day, or mailing in or dropping off an absentee ballot.

Some registered voters say they fear that the location of early voting poll sites could be prohibitive for some voters, and ultimately affect voter turnout.

While there were reports of long lines at polling sites in the Bronx over the weekend, and indications of smooth operations during early voting on Tuesday afternoon, it is possible that both images obscure a deeper problem: people who would be out there making the lines even longer, but encounter obstacles in turning out.

Daris B. Jackson, 38, is concerned with accessibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think one of the main issues is transportation and access,” said the Bronx resident.

“If you’re on the Broadway corridor, for instance, you have the 1 train, but as you move further into Kingsbridge and Riverdale, you’re departing from reliable access to public transportation. You have the buses, but they get diverted and streets are closed.”

New York state law requires that each county have at least one early voting poll site per 50,000 registered voters, with each county having between one and seven poll sites. But not all poll sites are in areas with accessible or reliable forms of transportation.

For residents in the Northwest Bronx, the main poll site in the vicinity is InTech Academy (M.S./H.S. 368).

While the poll site is within a five-minute walk to the 1 train and near several bus lines, access to transportation is limited throughout the area. Those who live in North Riverdale without access to a subway line could have a 30-minute commute by bus to vote early.

InTech Academy is the only early-voting site for a huge chunk of the western Bronx. (Anna Deen/Datawrapper)

Jackson added that, especially with COVID-19, voters may not feel comfortable taking public transportation, walking to poll sites, or standing in long lines. “If you’re someone who’s mobility impaired or immunocompromised, getting on the bus might not be as simple as it was last year or the year before,” Jackson said.

Another hurdle for voters is that poll site locations can change between election years, and that many early voting poll sites may be distinct from general election poll sites.

Crystal Joseph, the Vice President of Communications at the League of Women Voters of New York State, says that’s why she stresses the importance of having a voting plan for each individual: “You have to think through what your day will [be like] in an authentic way.”

Joseph, a resident in the Kingsbridge and Riverdale area of the Northwest Bronx, says that she has personal experience with poll site changes. “One poll site was very convenient for me, and in the last election cycle has shifted. It’s more of a reach for me [now].”

She says that these changes can impact when, where, and how people vote: “I would definitely say that any time there is a poll site change or there is a poll site that closes or has to be shifted elsewhere, [it] is a form of voter suppression.”

Despite the potential challenges that come with voting, Jackson is optimistic. He says he thinks that being able to drop off an absentee ballot without waiting in line is a beneficial for many voters. He says some voters may find it reassuring that they aren’t required to mail in their absentee ballots, given concerns surrounding mailbox phishing and limitations of the post office.

“I do think these options are great options. I hope they continue in future elections. It’s a first-time thing. We don’t know how it’s going to work or look,” Jackson says.

Registered voters can vote in person or drop off their absentee ballot at their early voting poll site until Nov. 1. All absentee ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3.

On Election Day, voters can bring their absentee ballot to any polling site or the County Board of Elections Office.