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Over 30,000 Tompkins County voters went to the polls, despite pandemic

Early voters socially distancing along N. Tioga St. while waiting outside Ithaca Town Hall to cast their votes in the 2020 presidential election.
Early voters socially distancing along N. Tioga St. while waiting outside Ithaca Town Hall to cast their votes in the 2020 presidential election. (Ithaca Week/Emily Snyder)

Voters stood six feet apart in lines outside of polling locations to cast their ballots in the 2020 presidential election. Even though the set-up at polling sites looked different from past elections, the coronavirus pandemic didn’t deter voters from showing up at the polls.

Roughly 72.7 percent of total eligible voters in Tompkins County have voted either with an absentee ballot, during early voting or on Election Day. These three options allowed voters to safely exercise their right to vote in the midst of the pandemic.

Health and safety precautions were implemented at polling stations during early voting and Election Day to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. Voting booths at Tompkins County polling stations were spread apart and sanitized regularly. Additionally, the New York State Board of Elections required each County Board of Elections to include COVID-19 safety guidelines in the training protocol for poll workers.

In response to the pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo launched a state absentee ballot portal where any New York State voter concerned about risk or exposure to COVID-19 was able to request an absentee ballot for this election.

“Voting is the cornerstone of democracy and we want each and every voter to feel safe and secure in the exercise of voting,” Governor Cuomo said Sept. 1.

Over 12,400 absentee ballots have been returned to the Tompkins County Board of Elections out of the 14,717 that were requested. The County Board will begin counting absentee ballots Nov. 10.

In addition to absentee voting, Tompkins County has also recorded a high rate of early voting. This year marks New York State’s first time offering early voting in a presidential election, and according to Board of Elections Co-Commissioner Steve Dewitt, 13,725 Tompkins County residents took advantage of these nine extra days. Early voting not only aims to strengthen the democratic process, but also to reduce the size of crowds on Election Day.

Sign stating voters are required to wear a face mask, use hand sanitizer, and social distance 6 feet apart.
Signage posted outside of the Ithaca Town Hall polling site requires voters to follow health and safety precautions. (Ithaca Week/Emily Snyder)

Ithaca resident Tess Kneebone decided to mail her vote this election because as an essential worker, Kneebone didn’t want to risk being exposed to COVID-19 at the polls.

“Especially during this pandemic, making voting accessible is more important than ever,” Kneebone said. “I think having the option of absentee ballots gives everyone the opportunity to vote.”

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