NEW YORK — New Yorkers cast their final ballots Tuesday amid a pandemic that had officials worried about protecting the health of voters and safety on top of more typical concerns about long wait times or adequate staffing.
Long lines formed at scattered polling places in the New York City area in the first few hours of voting Tuesday, even with a record number of people casting ballots by mail or through early voting. No major problems had been reported at New York City polling sites over the first few hours of voting, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
In Brooklyn's Boerum Hill section, voters expressed both urgency and resignation over how the election would turn out.
"The country is so divided that I feel like it's not going to be good either way," said Nurit Dallimore, who likened the political climate to the "war zone" atmosphere she remembers from her native Israel. "Someone's going to find something to riot about."
New York Attorney General Letitia James said she will work with local election boards and law enforcement to "swiftly address any incidents of intimidation or harassment." The good-government group Common Cause New York enlisted volunteers to monitor polling sites and help people who have problems voting.
In past elections, 90% of New York's vote was cast on Election Day, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo relaxed the state's rules this year to allow anyone worried about the coronavirus to vote by mail.
A record 3.5 million votes were cast in New York before the polls even opened on Election Day.
At least 1 million absentee ballots had been turned in as of Friday, according to the state Board of Election. Any ballots postmarked by Tuesday will be counted.
In a rural stretch of upstate New York west of Albany, voters streamed into the Knox Town Hall on a bright, cold morning with fresh snow on the ground. Jim Czebiniak, 72, and semi-retired, said he wanted to make sure his vote counted.
"I don't trust the way the mail is being handled, I don't trust the way ballots are getting ignored or thrown out," he said.
Eric Marczak, a 73-year-old retiree, said he had no concerns about voting during the pandemic.
"Up here, we live in a rural area and I feel like we have an extra layer of protection," he said.
This was also the first presidential election in which the state allowed early, in-person voting. More than 2.5 million such ballots were cast, despite hours-long lines at the limited number of early voting stations.
About 7.8 million ballots of all types were cast in New York in the 2016 presidential election.
State and local election officials warn it could take weeks to know the results of tight races.
State law delays the absentee count start until at least Nov. 6 and gives counties until Nov. 28 to report results. That gives local election officials time to cross-check voting data and audit in-person votes.
Decision day arrives in New York's history-making election
An unprecedented election reached its climax Tuesday, and while all eyes are on the polarizing presidential race, pandemic-scarred New Yorkers will also finish casting their votes in battles for control of Congress and the state Legislature.
No matter who wins, history will be made in an election where in-person campaigning was limited, volunteers couldn't go door-to-door to get out the vote and Zoom calls replaced head-to-head debates..
New York state Republicans will try to seize back seats in the congressional delegation that the party lost two years ago. Democrats, meanwhile, have hopes of winning a two-thirds supermajority in the state Senate, which could move the state further to the left.
In many contests, results are unlikely to come on election night. A record number of votes have been cast by mail and the state's rules for counting those absentee ballots mean it could take weeks before results are finalized.
A pair of races are slated to make history with two Democrats poised to become the first openly gay Black members of Congress. Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones both won Democratic primaries in the spring to replace veteran Congress members who are retiring.
Torres, who identifies as Afro-Latino, has been a member of the New York City Council since 2014. The congressional district in the Bronx he hopes to represent is one of the poorest and most Democratic in the nation. Torres, 32, faces Republican Patrick Delices in the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano.
Jones is a 33-year-old Black lawyer who ran with the backing of progressives including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a district that includes all of Rockland county and part of Westchester County. The Republican candidate in the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey is Maureen McArdle Schulman.
Openly gay white people have served in Congress since the 1980s, as well as at least one Black congresswoman who chose not to speak publicly about her sexuality, the late U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan, of Texas.
The first openly gay person to represent New York in Congress, U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, was first elected in 2012. The Democrat is now seeking a fifth term in a race against Republican Chele Farley.
More than 3.7 million votes, a record, were cast in New York before the polls even opened on Election Day. That includes more than 2.5 million ballots from early voting and at least 1.2 million absentee ballots, according to the state Board of Elections.
Winners in some New York congressional contests in the state's June primary were not declared for weeks because of the volume of absentee ballots cast as voters stayed home to avoid potential risks connected to the coronavirus pandemic.
Similar waits for results were expected in close races for several New York House seats, including some that flipped from the Republican to the Democratic column in 2018 — and that Republicans have been hoping to flip back.
Democrat Max Rose is trying to win a second term in a battleground district that includes all of Staten Island and a slice of Brooklyn. He's in a tough fight with Republican challenger Nicole Malliotakis, a member of the state Assembly who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2017.
Former U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney, a Republican voted out of office in 2018, is trying to reclaim her seat in central New York from the Democrat who beat her, U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi.
Another rematch in a neighboring district features Democrat Dana Balter challenging three-term Republican U.S. Rep. John Katko, who beat her in 2018.
There's less suspense about results in the 14th Congressional District, where the 31-year-old incumbent, Ocasio-Cortez, is widely expected to win. Her little-known Republican challenger John Cummings, a teacher and former police officer, has spent more than $8.5 million on the race with fundraising buoyed by out-of-town conservatives.
One district to the north, in parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman is also poised for victory after defeating longtime U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel in the Democratic primary. He has no Republican opponent in the race but faces Patrick McManus, a former police officer and firefighter, running on the Conservative Party line.
In state Legislative races, Democrats were seeking veto-proof supermajority in the state Senate two years after they won control of the chamber for the first time in decades.
Democrats hold 40 seats in the 63-seat Senate. They need only two more to achieve a two-thirds supermajority. The party already holds a supermajority in the state Assembly.
The consolidation of Democratic control in both houses could alter the balance of power between the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a moderate Democrat who would be unable to veto progressive legislation affecting taxes, law enforcement and other issues.