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Why Doesn’t NYC Set Up Voting Sites the Night Before Election Day?

This morning, a few New York City polling places opened late because ballots and poll books were misdelivered. Some voters waited as election officials looked for and retrieved the correct materials. Others voted by affidavit ballot instead, and some left.

In New York City, poll workers are expected to be at their poll sites at 5 a.m. Election Day morning to set up. This gives them one hour before poll sites open.

But elsewhere, it's fairly common to set up before Election Day morning, according to Tammy Patrick, an election expert with the Bipartisan Policy Center. "I was an election administrator for over a decade in Arizona and the majority of our sites were set up before Election Day," Patrick said. Depending on the facility, they might set up the night before or over the weekend leading up to Election Day.

Setting up early would give poll workers an opportunity to identify misdelivered materials, missing signs, pen shortages, and absent poll workers, and address these issues before voters arrive.

New York City Executive Director Michael Ryan cited security as a reason to keep the voting material under lock and key before Election Day. "We don't have control of the 1,205 poll sites so we need to secure the equipment before Election day, Wouldn't it be a much worse scenario if you walked into an election site and you had the whole poll site set up before and we walk in to find all the voting machines stolen?"

Patrick said there are ways to maintain the security of at least some of the materials. "Equipment, ballots, rosters, and other relevant materials are secured with tamper evident seals and logs are verified that nothing has been tampered with," said Patrick.

Additional reporting by Brigid Bergen, WNYC

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About Electionland

ProPublica’s Electionland project covers problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections. Our coalition of newsrooms around the country are investigating issues related to voter registration, pandemic-related changes to voting, the shift to vote-by-mail, cybersecurity, voter education, misinformation, and more.

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