In the early morning hours when polls were only just beginning to open, a line already formed down the stairs and around the corner of the Poughkeepsie City Hall. By midday, aside from four individuals behind a table outside the poll entrance, the lines had completely cleared. The individuals, often mistaken for poll workers, were actually part of the Election Defense group, a nonprofit, nonpartisan team trained in de-escalation techniques and voting rights.
Tracy Lerman, an Election Defense volunteer, helped a woman who claimed she was turned away from voting because her status was inactive. Lerman went back into City Hall with the woman to demand a provisional ballot, available for voters to cast their ballot even if their eligibility is questioned at the polls. Provisional ballots are only counted if eligibility is later confirmed.
“It felt good to be able to help someone who was clearly frustrated. She claimed she voted in every election and she had the kind of job where she couldn’t really afford to be late, or she might get fired or something. I was happy that I helped her vote,” Lerman said.
When Lerman is not volunteering at the polls, she is the executive director of the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. She said she gave her staff the day off for Election Day and noted that most of her employees are based out of the swing state of Pennsylvania, making their vote even more important.
Election Defense member Kasssandra Gonzalez is a 21-year-old student who plans on studying anthropology. She traveled an hour to volunteer at the Poughkeepsie poll and emphasized the importance of informing voters already exhausted by this year’s election.
“We’re just trying to be supportive and fill in gaps for people who are too tired to fill in that gap,” Gonzalez said. “People have died for our right to vote, honor that. Even if it’s candidates you don’t like, and if it’s someone you don’t like then make sure that the next time it will be someone you like.”
Members of the Election Defense group said they arrived as early as 6:30 a.m. and planned on staying until the polls closed at 9 p.m. Throughout the day, several voters approached their table regarding confusion on where the polling location was.
The volunteers explained that the Dutchess County Board of Elections did not give proper notice of a polling site change that had previously been Interfaith Towers located down the street. Interfaith Towers is a senior housing community which previously provided a convenient voting for seniors who now had to travel down the street to cast their ballot.
However, one voter, Barry Barsamian, said that the election process this year went smoothly aside from an initial rush of voters lined outside the poll site in the morning. He said he has voted in three elections so far and emphasized the importance of voter participation.
“You always get the, ‘It doesn’t matter if I vote or not,’ but if everyone thought that way then nothing would get done,” Barsamian said. “Every year it’s just kind of, just go out, mark the box, hope for the best. I always say hope for the best and prepare for whatever.”
First-time voter Judy Luislara described confusion at the beginning of her voter experience but ultimately said that she was proud that she cast her ballot. She sat alone outside of the polling site wearing headphones and with her “I voted” sticker on display across her jacket.
“I just felt like I had to vote because I couldn’t for the last [election], I had to wait four years and I finally did it,” Luislara said.
Luislara recently turned 18 this summer and emphasized the importance of other young people showing up at the polls. She believes her vote was important even if who she voted for wouldn’t directly impact her, but because it could impact other individuals of different age groups in the community.
Future voter Payton Montgomery, age 11, could not yet cast a ballot herself, but accompanied her mother, Fallon Montgomery who arrived at the City Hall at 5:30 a.m. to vote before her shift at work. But because of the long lines, she decided to come back later in the afternoon.
Originally from Michigan, she said that this was her first voting experience in New York. However, Fallon said that at 42 years old she has voted in every election since she turned 18.
“My ancestors fought for that right. We weren’t always able to vote and even when we were able to vote they still were turned down. A lot of Black people were still turned away,” Fallon said. “It’s important, I try to teach her that she should vote every single time. Anything in your community, anything in your state, you should know what’s going on and you should vote all the time.”