This article is copublished with The Other Hudson Valley, an independent news site.
Two polling sites in Ulster County had to pause voting over the weekend as throngs of residents cast ballots across the Hudson Valley in the first two days of early voting.
More than 14,000 ballots were cast in Ulster, Dutchess, Greene, and Columbia counties over the weekend. By 3pm on Monday, nearly as many people had voted in Ulster County as during all of 2019’s 16-day early voting period.
The ballot printers at the Ellenville and Highland polling sites would not operate early Saturday, but Ulster County Democratic Deputy Elections Commissioner Jen Fuentes suggested the problem wasn’t mechanical.
“I personally think they could have gotten the printers operating if they had more knowledge about how the printers worked,” she said.
Only one emergency ballot—which are filled out by hand if voting equipment malfunctions—was completed while the printers were offline, according to Fuentes.
Long lines were not unique to the Highland and Ellenville sites. Just before noon on Saturday, the line outside the New Paltz polling site was about 120 people long. According to Fuentes, out of about 124,000 active registered voters in Ulster County, 1,867 people voted Saturday and 2,190 people voted Sunday—about 3.3 percent.
This is only the second year with early voting in New York, and the first major election the system has had to handle. Elections officials have encouraged residents to vote early to lessen crowding on Election Day for public health reasons during the pandemic.
Most states now hold early voting, and participation is expected to be high nationwide. As many as 100 million people could vote before Election Day, according to NBC News. That’s more than three-quarters of all votes cast during the 2016 election.
Just before 1pm on Sunday, about 70 people were queued up outside Kingston’s polling site, one of five voting locations in Ulster County open before Election Day.
Nancy Kinlin said she had been in line for about 15 minutes. It was her second time at the site, she said—she had come on Saturday, but left after it began raining. She took a look at the crowd outside the New Paltz site and decided to wait until Sunday.
“We knew we had other day,” she said.
Dolores and Jerry Garfman said they had been in line for about 40 minutes. Dolores said the line had been moving steadily and they were happy to wait a short while to vote.
“You know what? It’s worth it,” Jerry said.
The couple chose early voting instead of mailing in an absentee ballot “to make sure our vote was counted,” Dolores said.
The US Postal Service announced in July it could only guarantee the timely delivery of absentee ballots if they were requested through the mail at least 15 days before Election Day. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order giving absentee ballots until November 10 to be received by county boards of elections, but elections officials said even with this additional time, the system would be strained.
Columbia County, like many of the less-populated counties in the region, only has as single early polling site, located in the City of Hudson, though the site has two polling stations, and someone was able to cast a vote about every 30 seconds over the weekend, according to Columbia County Republican Elections Commissioner Kelly Miller-Simmons.
Over the weekend, 1,284 people voted, about 2.7 percent of registered voters, Miller-Simmons said. The proportion was similar in surrounding counties.
Gai Galitzine, who was outside the Columbia County site as a poll watcher with the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition, said things had been going smoothly there, and she had received no complaints from voters—only a couple of questions. She contrasted the Hudson operation with the long lines poll watchers had observed in Ulster County.
In Dutchess County, which has five early voting sites, 5,180 people cast votes over the weekend, according to the Dutchess County Board of Elections. In Greene County, which has a single site in Catskill, 700 people voted.
Early voting will continue through Sunday, November 1, though the specific hours vary for each county. Check out our guide for yours. All regular polling site will be open from 6am until 9pm on Tuesday, November 3—Election Day.
Roger Hannigan Gilson is a Hudson Valley journalist and humorist. A former crime reporter for the Register Star, he now runs the news site The Other Hudson Valley.