Election 2020: Reports From Around New York City

NYC: Voted and Counting

In New York, more than 2.3 million people voted across the five boroughs, according to the New York City Board of Elections. The city was preparing for the worst – long lines and rioting. But what Columbia Journalism documentary students found was a peaceful day at the polls and a relatively calm night in the streets. 

A nail biter in New York’s 11th Congressional District

Late evening voters in New York’s 11th Congressional District were filled with concern and uncertainty as they headed to local schools and community centers to cast their ballots. 

“I’m anxious because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Staten Island voter Suzie Gean said as she left P.S. 57. “I miss the days when there were two better opponents actually fighting for something.”

Remembering the 2004 presidential contest between U.S. Sen. John Kerry and President George W. Bush, Gean said “Their causes made sense.”

For voters and campaign volunteers alike, Tuesday evening offered a last ditch chance to make a change. In North Shore Staten Island, volunteers for Rep. Max Rose (D) waited for voters on street corners and walked dark and quiet neighborhoods door knocking with one question on their lips: Have you voted?

Rose is running a highly watched and contested campaign against Republican challenger Nicole Malliotakis, who as of Tuesday evening was about 15 points ahead of the incumbent. Though information for poll workers about voter traffic shows that the final campaign push may have come too little too late.

Volunteers Aid Seniors Citizens in Getting to the Polls

When Solutions Now co-founders Richard Habersham and Erin Ruby met with NYCHA tenant associations earlier this summer, a concern came up—they were worried about voting access for their senior residents. Habersham, who grew up believing in everyone’s right to vote, knew right away that Solutions Now needed to do something. 

So the NYC-based nonprofit started Seniors for the Polls, a partnership between various community-based organizations and a private bus company to provide free shuttle buses to seniors to and from eight different NYCHA housing locations—four each in East Harlem and the South Bronx—and their respective polling places.

Seniors for the Polls ran for three days: last Wednesday and Thursday during early voting, and on Election Day. It ended up being critical last week, as long lines and wet weather would have been too much for many older voters to overcome.

Volunteers flooded Solutions Now with support, lining up at polling sites to assist seniors on and off the bus, disinfecting the buses, and even holding places in long lines, while wearing shirts that designated them as placeholders for seniors.

In a Solutions Now Instagram video, a group of masked residents, family members, and volunteers cheered as a shuttle bus pulled in.

“The feeling on the buses was energetic,” Ruby said.

–By Brandon Alexander

Brooklyn Democrat Supports Republicans This Year

Simone Peterson in Brooklyn. Photo courtesy by Anna B. Roach.

Simone Peterson voted for Ronald Reagan in the past and this year she’s pushing hard for Nicole Malliotakis, who is trying to unseat the Democratic incumbent representing Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn in the U.S. House. And, of course, President Donald J. Trump.

So it might surprise some to learn that she is, in fact, a registered Democrat, something she proudly advertises with a bright red hoodie that reads: “Democrats for TRUMP: SOME OF US ARE SANE.”

Her views were on full display the morning of Election Day as she stood across the street from the Fort Hamilton High School poll site in Brooklyn’s residential Bay Ridge neighborhood. She explained that she didn’t vote in the last presidential election because she thought that Hillary Clinton would “bring socialism” and was dubious of Trump, but has since become a strong supporter of the president.

“He shoots from the hip,” said Peterson, 58, an independent contractor who recently moved to Bay Ridge from Manhattan to live with her boyfriend, a “staunch” liberal. “Donald Trump proved himself above and beyond.”

— By Tea Kvetenadze

Police Officer Overrides Poll Worker on Apparent Electioneering Outfit

A man walked up to the Fort Hamilton Senior Center, a polling station in Brooklyn’s quaint and mostly Democratic neighborhood of Bay Ridge. He wore a bright red cap topped with orange fur, a wink to President Donald J. Trump’s hair; a mask that read “all aboard the Trump Train”; and an American flag bandana. 

Jody Dublin, the poll worker, caught him on the way in. “You have to take off your hat,” she said. “That’s electioneering.”

Indeed, one of the rules imposed on polling stations is that there is to be no campaigning within 100 feet of the station entrance. All political clothing and discourse is supposed to be left at the door to prevent voter intimidation.

The man with the toupee paused for a moment before waving Dublin off and entering the station. Minutes later, he was escorted out by a police officer. After a conversation, the officer escorted him back into the station, wig and all, where he finished voting.

— By Anna Roach

Bluemercury, Dr. Martens, Gamestop Board Up 

Men in masks shouted directions at one another in Union Square Tuesday as they fit large wooden panels in front of doors and windows. Dr. Martens and Gamestop were being boarded up, following the lead of Footworks, Staples and Bluemercury earlier in the week.

“We don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” said Evan Cancel, a Dr. Martens’ manager. 

Stores were preparing after a summer of protests that followed George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minnesota. The largely peaceful demonstrations did include some looting in New York. Stores near the city’s major protest sites were vandalized and looted, including Union Square. Dr. Martens wasn’t boarded up at that time, and protestors smashed its door and windows. The company decided to take precautions ahead of the election, according to Cancel. 

Workers in Union Square prepare store fronts for a night of uncertainty. Photo by Macy Bayern.

“All I know is if we get another four years of Trump, it isn’t going to be good,” he said. Dr. Martens was closed all day Tuesday. 

Across the street, high-end makeup and skincare store Bluemercury had one visible door left amid the panels of wood. Manager Nisha Ellis said the store’s parent company, Macy’s, ordered the precautions ahead of the election. 

“Union Square is usually where [protests] start; either here, or Washington Square,” Ellis said. 

–By Macy Bayern

84-Year-Old Wanders Off Course, Ends Up Voting Back Home

It was eerily quiet at Brooklyn’s Fort Hamilton High School before the silence was shattered by a sharp metallic bang just after 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. 

Teri Brennan, the coordinator of the voting site at the school, sprang up from her chair and began to mop up her spilled tea, part of her precious supply which was now leaking from her thermos all over the floor of the converted cafeteria. 

Brennan sighed. It was set to be a long day for her, in part because the nearest deli was 10 blocks away, too far for her to go refill her mug, but also because the stream of voters had slowed down to a trickle. 

“It’s insanely grueling and when it’s quiet it’s harder because you get tired more,” Brennan said. 

The majority of voters in the neighborhood cast their ballots early at the high school, leaving only a small portion of people to vote on Election Day, Brennan said. 

Even without the long lines, however, the process was confusing to some. Take Vuysa, 84, who spoke in a thick Russian accent and declined to give her last name. She took out her frustrations on Brennan after learning she had arrived at the wrong polling center. 

“I don’t have anything to do with where you’re supposed to vote,” Brennan said. “The Board of Elections and their computer syst-” 

“So I came for nothing,” Vuysa interrupted.

Brennan confirmed that Vuysa did indeed come for nothing in a strained but calm tone. 

“In my 84 years,” Vuysa muttered to herself as she wandered away. 

About a half hour later, Vuysa finally arrived at the correct voting center at the Shore Hills Apartment Complex – which coincidentally is where she lives. 

Vuysa walked into the voting area with a smile in her eyes peeking out above her gray mask. After casting her vote, she began to walk toward the front door, then quickly returned to hand a pen back to a poll worker, embarrassed that she accidentally “stole it,” although the poll worker assured her that the pens were okay to take. 

“I was so eager to vote this year,” Vuysa said, explaining that she had gotten confused about where to vote after a conversation with a neighbor. 

–By Jacob Geanous

At Upper West Side Polls, Where Are the Voters?

Just a few voters head into a polling site on the Upper West Side. Photo by Columbia News Service.

Milt, a poll worker who preferred not to share his last name, looked terribly bored as he scanned the corner of 82nd Street and West End Avenue for potential voters. A few days ago, he was called up to help at Edward A. Reynolds High School on 101st and Amsterdam, where early voting lines stretched for hours on end. He had waited three hours to vote himself. But on Election Day, Milt ushered voters in and out of the Mickey Mantle School with no wait whatsoever. 

“It was busy right at 7:30 a.m., but since then, it’s been really slow,” he said, trailing off at the end of his sentence to help a woman find the door. 

Across the Upper West Side, polling places have had an unexpectedly slow Election Day. At locations from LaGuardia High School to St. Paul and St. Andrew Methodist Church, apart from a brief rush when polls opened, there have been almost no lines for prospective voters.

One poll volunteer at LaGuardia High School on 65th Street and Amsterdam, a paunchy, redheaded man, said he suspected that the wave of New Yorkers that voted early this year has contributed to the diminished lines. Indeed, more than one million New Yorkers cast their votes in the days leading up to Nov. 3, as people seek to avoid large gatherings amid a resurgence in coronavirus cases across the country.

Lines were sparse Tuesday after long waits during early voting. Photo by Columbia News Service.

The drive for poll volunteers by the New York City Board of Elections appeared effective as well, as many first-time workers kept things running smoothly. Milt, the volunteer from Mickey Mantle High School, said he signed up after he heard there was a shortage of volunteers due to concerns among elderly workers about exposure to the coronavirus. And, while he expressed surprise that his shift stretched from 5:00 a.m. until about 10:00 p.m., he said he would sign up again in future elections. 

The calm on the streets of the Upper West Side might not last long. Shops up and down Columbus Avenue have boarded up their storefronts with plywood in anticipation of demonstrations as election results start to come in. 

Workers erect plywood coverings for windows at shops on West 70th Street and Broadway. Photo by Joseph Lovinger

But until then, poll workers are focused on getting New Yorkers to vote. Outside PS 199 on the corner of 70th Street and West End Avenue, two poll workers danced with their signs as they called out to passersby. “Good morning, no line to vote!” they sang. 

A woman with straight blonde hair walked out of the school, smiling behind her mask. “I’ve never had no line before. Not even in normal years.”

By Joseph Lovinger

#PlayTheVote Brings Bréval to the Ballot Box

(Left to Right) Leila Pelegano Titmus, Ellen Silver, and Kari Docter play a sonata by Breval for the voters entering Riverside Church. Photo by Lauren A. McCarthy

Ellen Silver, a cellist, has voted at Riverside Church in Morningside Heights for 20 years. But Silver, 51, who plays in the Metropolitan Opera orchestra and once performed on the Great Wall of China, never played at her polling place – before today.

Beginning at 8 a.m. this morning, Silver, who runs the Silver Music School in the neighborhood, played alongside her student, Leila Pelegano Titmus, 12, and Kari Docter, 47, a longtime friend from college. The cellists performed a sonata by the French composer Jean-Baptiste Breval with their bare hands, despite the chill of the morning.

Their serenade for voters was part of #PlayTheVote, an initiative to raise morale and bring joy to tense voters across the city. Silver said that she saw the initiative as a way to give back while also getting the younger generation involved. “Never played at a polling spot before,” she said, “didn’t know it was a thing but I bet it will continue to be a thing.”

Voters and onlookers certainly seemed to appreciate the music. Several stopped to take photos and videos, and clapped and cheered for the cellists. 

–By Lauren A. McCarthy

Feature Photo by Henry Danner

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Columbia News Service