ALBANY, N.Y. — A primary election season like no other neared a conclusion Tuesday as New Yorkers made their picks for Congress, president and other offices following campaigns in which candidates largely had to connect with voters online amid a pandemic.
With the state allowing anyone to vote by absentee ballot rather than risk getting exposed to the coronavirus at a polling location, the process of collecting and counting votes will be different this year.
About 1.8 million people requested absentee ballots by mid-June and have until Tuesday to postmark them, according to elections officials.
Voting locations across the state were open, but upstate there were about 3,000 fewer of them than in a normal year due to the difficulties of maintaining socially distant polling precincts and expectations that more people will vote by mail.
And Erie County, home to the state's second largest city, Buffalo, had 40% fewer polling sites with 336 out of 837 precincts open. Monroe County, home to Rochester, had 120 sites, down from 827. Madison County in central New York, had just one polling site, down from around 52 normally.
State Board of Elections spokesman John Conklin said he hopes the consolidation plan will have a "minimal" impact on voter turnout and voter access.
Poll workers across the state have spent weeks ordering personal protective gear, preparing for early voting that concluded Sunday and planning measures that include disinfecting ballot scanners and reducing foot traffic in narrow hallways.
Voting locations in the Albany suburb of Guilderland were staffed with mask-wearing poll workers Tuesday morning, but only a trickle of voters came through.
Pappachen and Alice George said they forgot to get their absentee ballot applications in on time but were able to easily fill out paper ballots at an uncrowded local fire station.
"Now I can see that my vote counted," Pappachen George said.
Some voters have taken to social media to express frustration as state election workers raced to get the mountain of absentee ballots into the hands of New Yorkers before Tuesday's deadline.
Polls close at 9 p.m., but because absentee ballots aren't opened and counted in New York until at least a week after election day, the results of many primary contests might not be known until July.
As for the contests themselves, voters are selecting the Democratic nominee for president. That primary was largely rendered moot after state officials postponed it from April because of the pandemic and Joe Biden's major opponents all subsequently dropped out of the race.
The vote will still be held, though, after a court overturned an attempt by Democratic state elections commissioners to cancel the primary.
A number of hotly contested congressional primaries will be the main event in many parts of the state.
Eleven House Democrats are facing primary challenges, including representatives Eliot Engel and Yvette Clarke, who are both facing challenges from their party's left-wing.
Voters are also picking who will represent their party in the race for House seats opening up due to the retirements of Republican Peter King and Democrats Nita Lowey and José Serrano.
A special election that concludes Tuesday will pick the successor to U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican in western New York who resigned after an insider trading conviction.
On the state level, 33 Democrats and one Republican in the Assembly and state Senate are facing primary challengers. Republicans are hoping to maintain their seats in a year when several state lawmakers have announced they won't run for re-election.
Voters who get ballots at the last minute can still send them in as long as they're postmarked by Tuesday, according to Conklin, despite some confusion over ballots sent out that erroneously said they had to be postmarked by Monday. Those ballots were printed before the state extended its deadline to Tuesday.
Sarah Goff, deputy director at Common Cause New York, said the primary election process has moved "remarkably smoothly" so far, given the challenges, though people may have to wait two to three weeks to know Tuesday's official results.
"So we just ask voters and candidates for patience," Goff said. "And it's more important that the local boards of elections take the time they need to get the count right and make sure every vote is counted."