SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) Election Day is 7 November this year, a week from today–yet all over Onondaga County, people are casting their ballots early. Simply put, early voting is a period of time (the ten days before Election Day) when citizens can come to polling places to do just that: vote early.
However, there are benefits to early voting beyond merely casting your ballot with time to spare. On Election Day, citizens are assigned polling places in their neighborhoods, and they only have that day to vote–but through early voting, anyone can head to any available polling place when they’re open to casting a ballot. Every polling place is equipped with every kind of ballot from every town in the county, so no matter where you are, you can make your voice heard in your home. Onondaga County’s Elections Commissioner, Dustin Czarny, says this flexibility is one of the biggest advantages to voting early.
“You’re not assigned to a site, that’s the great thing about early voting,” he said. “You may be driving into Syracuse for work, see a site, and vote–you’ll get your ballot for where you live out in the suburbs. You may be out doing something recreationally in the suburbs, but you live in the city, and you see an early voting spot, and you can go in and vote.”
Election inspector Jayne Humbert echoed this sentiment when I spoke to her at the Beauchamp Branch Library polling site. A member of the League of Women Voters, she took on the responsibility of being an election inspector because she is “absolutely and totally committed” to providing people the opportunity to vote.
“[Early voting] makes it convenient and easier for people to be able to vote,” she said. “I think anything we can do to encourage people’s involvement–and their feeling that the government is a part of themselves–is a very good thing to do.”
While this convenience is a nice feature, Commissioner Czarny considers early voting an important safeguard against uncertainties and emergencies on Election Day.
“We have a very busy society. People have more than one job, they have child care, they have elder care,” he explained. “We live in the age of COVID–even though the pandemic has lessened, we still have an endemic of people getting COVID and having to isolate. These are situations that you don’t know will come about. If you wait until election day, you may fall victim to one of these situations and be unable to cast your vote.”
He gestured to polling machines surrounding him. “So for people who have any kind of fear that they may not get out on Election Day, you can choose one of the nine days to early vote and be done.”
Practices like early voting and mail-in ballots are intended to make voting more accessible to every citizen. Humbert and Czarny are both dedicated to encouraging voters to participate in elections in their lines of work.
“The government speaks for us, and it is extremely important we know who is speaking for us. The government is also a reflection of our values, and we want to make sure what we value–what we feel is important, for our country, for our community, for our families–is reflected in government.” Humbert said, nodding. “I think the best thing a person can do is to be informed about the people who are running for office.”
Staying informed is something Humbert can help with. The League of Women Voters’ website, vote411.org, contains all kinds of resources and information for voters. Polling places, status of voter registrations, locations of debates, hotlines in case of Election Day issues, interviews with candidates and information on their stances–all this and more is provided on the site.
Czarny couldn’t agree more–and emphasizes the importance of staying informed on the local level.
“The local elections that are going on now affect your life on a daily basis,” he said. “Your sales tax rates when you go to buy groceries, your zoning for your apartment you live in, the code enforcement for that apartment, the roads that you drive on, the amount of tickets that are done and whether they can be forgiven… The people who make those policies are at the local level.”
He recommended another website to me–and anyone who votes in Onondaga County. ongov.net/elections is where lists of early voting polling places, timelines on how long early voting lasts, hours of different polling places, and directions to register to vote can all be found.
In striving to make voting more accessible, early voting helps foster the true ideals of democracy–a government where everyone can have a voice.