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Nine days, one million ballots: How New Yorkers found community in early voting lines

November 2, 2020 Josefa Velasquez, Eileen Grench, and Ben Fractenberg, THE CITY
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A dog dressed as Wonder Woman. A Grammy award-winning guitarist serenading voters with his daughter. DJs bumping music.

New York’s hottest club is early voting lines.

Seven months after the coronavirus outbreak sparked mass shutdowns and disrupted everyday lives with schools moved largely to online learning, many people working from home and social interactions minimized, New Yorkers found community in voting.

More than a million votes were cast over nine days in New York City, bringing people together on long, socially distanced lines where they shared stories, food and the occasional laugh.

On the last weekend of early voting, with Election Day rapidly approaching, THE CITY captured scenes from the ballot queues.

A father-daughter duo

Clay Ross of Windsor Terrace started off 2020 as a Grammy award winner. His Charleston-based band, Ranky Tanky, won Best Regional Roots Album honors in January. But as with most people, this rest of the year has proved challenging.

“I’m a professional musician, so it’s been really hard — I’ve been very unemployed. It’s really been tough, you know?” Ross, 43, said outside of the Park Slope Armory YMCA Saturday.

Clay Ross entertains voters with his daughter outside the Park Slope Armory on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
He and his 5-year-old daughter spent the two weekends of early voting serenading Brooklyn voters waiting on line. Ross strums the guitar while his daughter plays the violin and occasionally sings.

The pair had just finished “This Land is Your Land” on a chilly but sunny Saturday for roughly a dozen people, a small fraction of what they had seen the previous week when the line snaked around blocks, causing hours-long waits for voters, among them Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“We’ve seen that people really seem to appreciate it,” Ross said of the music.

A family affair

Ave Carrillo and her husband Alexis Cuadrado make sure to bring their kids with them as they vote in every election, whether local races, midterms or presidential contests.

“I don’t believe that just because New York is a blue state, it means that you shouldn’t vote,” Carrillo said. “I just think that that’s just such a false sense of security.”


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We voted! Please VOTE!!

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After they finished voting Saturday, the Ditmas Park parents snapped some selfies outside the Park Slope Armory YMCA parents with their son and daughter, 12-year-old twins. They had prepared for long lines and scouted some chicken sandwiches nearby, but were surprised by how quickly it went.

“We’re setting an example for kids that no matter what, you have to have your voice heard,” Carrillo said.

Witch way to the polls

In Central Harlem, a line of voters extended along the chainlink fencing outside the PS 175 Henry H. Garnet early polling location Saturday.

Natasha Greaves, 31, stood out — sporting a tall, feathered witch’s hat, veil with spider decals and vibrant green eyeshadow.

“I can’t take the mask off or you’d see the whole green!” she said, raising her voice so that it cut through both her mask and a DJ blasting a pulsing remix of “Stay” by Ne-Yo out of a pair of speakers.

Natasha Greaves stood in line to vote in Harlem dressed in a costume she dubbed “Wicked from the Hood,” Oct. 31, 2020. Photo: Eileen Grench/THE CITY

Greaves looked forward to the picture she planned to send her after-school students of her Halloween voting adventure.

“I call myself, ‘Wicked from the Hood’,’” she said, laughing.

Artie the Wonder Dog

Outside of the Park Slope Armory YMCA Saturday morning, Wonder Woman — aka Artie, a friendly goldendoodle — drew a line of admirers as his owner cast her vote inside.

Artie, who was on a leash, welcomed being pet and particularly appreciated being scratched behind the ears.

Golden doodle Artie makes new friends during early voting at the Park Slope Armory on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
His babysitter, an Upper East Side resident named Christie, said she had waited 45 minutes in the rain earlier in the week to cast her ballot at the Robert F. Wagner Middle School.

The Pennsylvania native said she’s used to the urgency of voting in a battleground state, but cast her ballot in blue New York “just in case.”

As a lesbian, this election is particularly important to her, she said.

“I’m voting just to show people we’re here. It’s so important to show up,” said Christie, who didn’t want her last name used.

After spending the better part of a year indoors, seeing people line up and excited to vote has been refreshing, she added.

“We need to take a breath,” Christie said.

A different kind of party

Lewis Sepulveda, 31, strolled quickly down the street away from the Bronx Regional High School polling place in the South Bronx towards the closest Citi Bike rack, beanie pulled over his ears and earbuds in.

“To think six months ago how this was,” laughed Sepulveda, who works in tech support. “I would have been out going clubbing and going to parties and all these things that I don’t really do right now, you know.”

Lewis Sepulveda rode a Citi Bike to his polling site in the South Bronx. Photo: Eileen Grench/THE CITY
But Sepulveda,“Bronx born and bred,” said that after months of isolation, he had to steel himself to be surrounded by so many fellow voters on Saturday afternoon — no matter how important the cause.

“There’s a lot of issues especially surrounding, I’m a gay man, so surrounding the LGBTQ community that I’m really passionate about,” he said. “And I feel like if I don’t get my voice heard that I’m just gonna sit back and watch what happens.”

Sepulveda said he voted safely and quickly in a center filled with hand sanitizer stations and free masks.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and I know how cheap The Bronx can be with certain things, you know, with resources. And it was great to see that there was an abundance of them,” he said.

Jazzed over turnout

Philip Young, a 72-year-old jazz musician out of work since nightclubs shut down in March, walked out of the PS 175 gymnasium in gleaming white sneakers, a gray fedora and matching coat, with a “I Voted Early” sticker freshly adhered.

The drummer told THE CITY that many musicians like him have gotten through the last months writing music that “gets the message across that this wasn’t a fun time.”

Philip Young, a 72-year-old jazz drummer, was inspired by the scene on his voting line in Harlem. Photo: Eileen Grench/THE CITY

At the polls, he was not only happy to exchange greetings with familiar faces from the neighborhood, he was buoyed by seeing the 40-minute-long line of strangers.

The staunch voter of 54 years, who got his start in music as a teen at the Apollo and has played with jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, told THE CITY that voting this year has been an especially “auspicious occasion.”

“They’re standing out in line waiting for their moment,” said Young, a local jazz legend. “That’s a beautiful thing. Yeah, it is a beautiful thing.”

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