CAPITAL REGION — Early voting is set to begin Saturday across the state as voters get their first chance to cast a ballot at a polling site in this year’s state, local and national elections.
Beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, voters will have nine days to cast an early ballot in the runup to Election Day on Nov. 3, and Capital Region county election officials are already seeing signs of high voter enthusiasm as absentee ballot requests top record highs.
In Schenectady County, election commissioners on Wednesday said they have received over 15,000 absentee ballot requests this election – more than 8,000 of which had been returned – up from about 4,500 absentee ballot requests around the same time in 2016. In Montgomery County, Election Commissioner Terry Bieniek said the county had sent out about 3,600 absentee ballots compared to around 1,000 absentee ballots in a typical presidential election year, and he said many people have been returning the absentee ballots directly to the elections office. Schoharie County elections officials also reported a big increase in absentee ballots so far this year.
“If that is a sign of people coming out to [vote] … then we will probably have a pretty good turnout,” Bieniek said.
Voters planning to vote in person should be prepared to wear a mask and socially distance throughout the process, but county election officials said they were confident lines would be manageable with voters spread out over nine days of early voting, Election Day and absentee balloting.
Early voters can cast their ballot at any of the early voting sites set up in their county – smaller counties have just one site, while larger ones have multiple sites. Voters must go to their assigned polling site if they wait to vote on Election Day.
In Schenectady, a surge of new poll worker volunteers and an expansion of both space and equipment at the voting sites should enable a smooth process for residents, the county’s two election commissioners, Amy Hild and Darlene Harris, said in a joint interview Wednesday.
“We are hoping that voters will not have to wait in line and that things will move quickly,” Hild said.
The Schenectady commissioners said they trained about 700 poll workers for the election, including around 400 new volunteers, and will have some of the volunteers on standby in case they need to ramp up staffing at a particular site after voting has started. The election officials also said there will be more voting equipment at each site and that voting booths will be more spread out than in past years.
“We doubled the staff and doubled the equipment,” Harris said.
The commissioners emphasized that one of the Schenectady County early voting sites is new this year: the South Schenectady Fire Department in Rotterdam replaced the previous site at the Viaport Mall.
The county has also expanded its elections office hours to allow more time for people to drop off absentee ballots, which can be delivered to a drop box housed at the elections office or taken to a voting site. They also encouraged people planning to vote in person do so during early voting to minimize the prospect of waiting in line on Election Day.
“Plan your vote, call us if you have any questions,” Hild said. “Email us, ask us the questions on or before Election Day so we can get you the answers.”
Voters will have more ways to cast their ballot this year than ever before after state officials determined the the risk of COVID-19 qualified as a reason to request an absentee ballot and as early voting is used for the first time during a presidential election year.
“If you can’t vote this year with all of the things out there, they are trying to make it easier, trying to make it more available to voters,” Bieniek, the Montgomery County election commissioner, said Wednesday. “I don’t know what else we can do other than go to a person’s home.”