Early voting is open in many places, including New York City.

The New York Times reports long lines at the polling stations with waiting times of several hours, sometimes deterring voters.

It reports that

New York City has 88 early polling sites for five million registered voters. The mayor recommended at least 100.

By contrast, in 2017 Berlin/Germany, where I live, had 1779 polling sites for 2.5 million eligible voters of which 75% voted. (To be fair, each "site", catering to a specific election district, may just be a single large room with several voting booths in a building like a school. A handful of these sites ("Wahllokale") are typically bundled in one building, at least in cities.) I think I have never walked more than 1000 meters to a polling site and never waited for more than one minute to cast my vote. It is a relaxed and smooth affair. As an aside, there is no early voting, so all votes are cast on a single Sunday.

Clearly, the New York situation is an organizational failure, and one that would be comparatively easy to fix. This failure to properly organize the foundational procedure of any democracy is baffling, even more so in the U.S. which is a pioneer and, in spite of everything, a standard-bearer of democracy.

Being one of the most Democratic leaning cities in the country with a Democratic mayor, in a state with a Democratic governor, we can safely assume that this is not an act of voter suppression.

What then is the reason that there are so few polling sites in New York?

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    I'm not sure your quote is the best way of framing your question. While there are 88 early polling sites, there are significantly more on the day polling sites (while still fewer per capita) data.cityofnewyork.us/City-Government/Voting-Poll-Sites-Map/…
    – origimbo
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 11:56
  • 1
    Greetings from Kölle! My guess is they either underestimated how many people would want to vote early in an ongoing pandemic or it's simply not feasible to have that many early voting sites open and staffed for weeks on end. As you mentioned, in Germany, voting is done on a Sunday and poll workers are usually volunteers, iirc. NY seems to employ paid poll workers: vote.nyc/page/poll-worker-positions. It's been reported that many people vote early this year out of fear what kind of measures might be in place on Nov 4. So it's probably a combination of those two factors.
    – YetiCGN
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 12:16
  • @origimbo Ah, that's actually a (perhaps partial) answer! I had seen the site you link to but failed to understand and use it properly (at the default scale you see only a handful of circles; I now see that the number in it is not a site ID but a count of the single items summed up in it). So I take it there are 1107 sites (the number in the single blob for NYC when you zoom farther out)? Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 12:59
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    I'm not going to guarantee that precise number, but that's certainly the right order of magnitude. See e.g. citylimits.org/2019/04/25/nyc-polling-place-shortage-inequality which discusses the issue in the context of the US and gives a figure of 1,231 polling places for the 2018 midterms.
    – origimbo
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 13:03
  • 1
    @origimbo If you write up a short answer combining the early vs. main voting number and add a few insights from that citylimits article you'll get at least one upvote ;-). If you don't feel like it I can do it some time; the citylimits article answers or hints at answers for some of my questions. Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 13:22

1 Answer 1


What then is the reason that there are so few polling sites in New York?

Budget: there are 1107 election-day polling sites, and the cost of keeping them all open for a week and a half would not be justified by the benefit. Also logistics: many of those sites are used for other things during most days (although that is less of a problem with the current public health measures).

I live about a 5-minute walk from my early polling site and 2 or 3 minutes from my election-day site. If the line for early voting doesn't drop to a manageable wait, I'm just going to vote on election day as I usually do. Only once have I ever had to wait in line for more than a couple of minutes, and while that was also a general election in a presidential election year, there was no early voting that time, and I was not working from home so I couldn't come back later to see whether the line had gotten shorter. In other words, I will be surprised if anyone trying to vote in person will have trouble doing so before the polls close on election day unless there are technical problems with the machines.

  • "...the cost of keeping them all open for a week and a half would be prohibitive" - I think this is factually inaccurate. Given the amount of the revenue stream just from taxes (not to mention other sources of revenue), New York can certainly afford to allocate the needed funds in their budget. It is a choice to choose not to do so. Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 1:38
  • @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket better?
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 9:46
  • Definitely an improvement! Thanks. The catch is that I think it's really your opinion that the costs outweigh the benefits (I didn't analyze the situation, so I'm not making any claims in any directions). There are at least a few possibilities: (1) they estimated the costs and benefits and - based on their values - they decided the costs outweighed the benefits, (2) they looked at it strictly from a political point of view and didn't want more voting access for some sort of perceived political advantage, (3) they really didn't think about it all and did what was easiest for them. Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 6:45
  • @RockPaperLz- MaskitorCasket it's not my opinion, it's my deduction from the evidence and a few assumptions, which I think are very reasonable. The principle assumption is that the number of poll workers required to keep a polling site open implies a heavy payroll cost. At my regular polling site there are maybe 8 or 10 precincts, with three people at each table, plus at least two greeters and at least two people at the scanners. At the early polling site, which doesn't have separate workers for each precinct, there were probably half as many people serving maybe ten times as many precincts.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 8:27
  • *it's not my opinion, it's my deduction from the evidence and a few assumptions, which I think are very reasonable. * When we use words like "assumptions" and "I think are very reasonable", we are alerted to the fact that we conjecturing, which is often considered an opinion, or a hypothesis at best. I think it's a very reasonable hypothesis that it would increase costs, but without facts we don't know (maybe people would volunteer, for example). Also, even if there are additional costs (which, like you, I hypothesize is probable), we have no evidence that is why the decisions were made. Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 20:31

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