By Ashley M. Casey
I have fond memories of tagging along with my parents to the local fire station each November so they could fulfill their sacred, civic duty: voting.
These memories are not just some of my favorite childhood moments because the volunteers at the polling place would hand out leftover Halloween candy (although that certainly helped). I remember feeling proud, helpful and all-American as my mom or dad would hoist me up behind the voting booth’s drab curtain and tell me which levers to flick. The names next to the levers meant little to me as a child, but I knew that exercising your right to vote was an important act of citizenship.
By the time I turned 18 — just in time for the 2008 election — the plaid-curtained voting booth soon would be a thing of the past. In 2010, Onondaga County switched to the ImageCast paper ballot optical scan system. Thanks to years of practice bubbling in circles on standardized Scantron tests, I was well prepared to fill in my selections. But feeding my ballot into the machine and waiting for the screen to blink “Ballot has been successfully cast” seemed anti-climactic, less official, without the familiar clink of the tiny levers or fighting to heave aside the lever that opened the curtain.
I’m not sure I’ll ever truly get used to filling in a paper ballot, but one Election Day innovation I was immediately on board with was early voting. Thanks to reforms passed earlier this year by the New York State Legislature, NYS held nine days of early voting between Oct. 26 and Nov. 3.
Voters in Onondaga County had their choice of six early polling places. According to the Onondaga County Board of Elections, 8,487 people cast ballots early. With 292,666 registered voters in Onondaga County, just under 3% of us cast our ballots early, and that’s not counting the 5,620 people who applied for absentee ballots.
As a journalist, my job is not strictly 9-to-5, and Election Day tends to be a busy one, so I appreciated the opportunity to get my civic duty out of the way early. I arrived at DeWitt Town Hall around 3 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29. I’d had an appointment earlier in the afternoon so I was already out and about and didn’t have to make a special trip to the polls as I might have done in years past.
I wasn’t sure how many people would take advantage of early voting, and I was surprised at how busy the polling place was. Fortunately, there was no line and the election inspectors kept voters moving swiftly. The speed of the whole operation was certainly helped by Onondaga County’s conversion to electronic poll pads.
After signing in on the electronic poll pad, an inspector printed a receipt, which I presented to a second inspector in exchange for a freshly printed ballot identical to the one I would have received had I waited to vote Nov. 5 in the village of Manlius, where I live. The only snag I encountered was my BOE-issued pen running out of ink, but I traded it in for a replacement and kept bubbling. For early voting, only two ImageCast machines were open and accepting ballots, but a handful of others were lined up in preparation for the big day, Nov. 5.
All in all, my entire early voting experience lasted no more than 5 or 10 minutes. It took me a lot longer than that to write this column. I’m looking forward to casting my ballot early next year, too.