The Illusion of Normalcy: Staten Island Voters Show Early Morning Enthusiasm

Lee O. Sanderlin and Cassidy Jensen | Tuesday, November 3, 2020


STATEN ISLAND — Cold wind greeted Staten Island’s first voters Tuesday morning as they waited outside of the Richmond Terrace Houses under cover of darkness, preparing to cast their ballots in an historic election.

On Staten Island, voters are not only deciding between four more years of President Donald Trump or his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, but the outcome of one of the state’s only competitive Congressional races. Incumbent Max Rose, a Democrat, is running against State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis for New York’s 11th Congressional seat. Staten Island itself is divided on sharp partisan lines, with Democrats to the north and Republicans to the south.

Nellie Davila, 62, was one of nearly 20 voters and two dogs waiting for 6 a.m., when polls opened, excited to cast a long-awaited vote. Supported by a walker, Davila said the country needs a “new president.”

“We need to get rid of coronavirus,” she said from behind her mask. “(Donald Trump) doesn’t even believe in it. This is history in the making right here.”

Davila got to the polls early because she was worried about long lines, she said.

Photo by Lee O. Sanderlin. Ramonita Garcia and her mother, name not given, pose for a selfie after voting. Garcia said it is her first time voting in 33 years.

About a mile away at Brighton Heights Reformed Church, Jennifer Dobbins, 61, also cast her vote in the early morning. Though 104,043 Staten Islanders opted to vote early this time — some for fear of COVID — Dobbins said she chose to vote on Election Day because she wanted to stick to her routine.

“I think I’m looking for reasons to do things the way I always did to give the illusion of normalcy in this very abnormal time,” she said.

On the other end of Staten Island, Anthony Taranto, 66, said he voted because he’s dissatisfied with Rose, Mayor Bill De Blasio and the Democratic establishment in the city.

“This is the worst government we’ve ever had,“ Taranto said. “De Blasio turned Manhattan back to the 70s,” referring to the decade when violent crime was more prevalent.

He said he voted on Election Day because he doesn’t trust mail-in ballots. “There’s nothing antiquated about voting booths.” Taranto, wearing a cowboy hat and black horn-rimmed glasses, went on to say all votes should be counted on Election Day, and that there’s no reason to drag the vote counting process out “for a week.” In New York, state law gives election officials until Nov. 10 to count votes.

Taranto, a self-described international businessman, said Americans “vote stupidly” because they don’t “listen to the issues,” and politicians are too concerned with throwing “mud.”

“Trump tried to stay away from that, but you kinda get dragged into it,” he said.

The fashions at the polls reflected the variety of voters’ ideologies. At P.S. 31, some wore “Black Lives Matter” masks while one man sported a t-shirt with the slogan “Come and Take It” and “Second Amendment” written on the back alongside the image of two rifles.

Yolanda Barnes, 58, wearing a bright yellow mask, braved the cold to vote in what she called a “historic election.”

“I’m not voting for myself,” Barnes said. “I’m voting for my grandchildren.”

John Reeves, 65, a poll worker in a three-piece suit and wearing a Super Bowl ring, stood outside the school, smoking a cigar. Quick with a light for people’s cigarettes and offering masks, Reeves greeted voters as they arrived. When asked about his blue shirt, red tie and white vest combination, Reeves said he tried to look good on Election Day, as he’s been working the polls for six years.

Tuesday’s contentious election attracted some long-lost voters. Ramonita Garcia was practically jumping around after leaving the voting booth. She said it was the first time she had voted in 33 years.

“I wanted to make a change,” she said.

What’s wrong?

“Everything.”


This story is the work of students at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Other news organizations are welcome to publish this story as long as they adhere to these guidelines.