For long-time poll worker Leonard Middleton, election day before the pandemic meant non-stop shuffling across the waxy floor of P.S. 41 The Greenwich Village School’s lunchroom floor to the hum of chatty voters and co-workers taking questions about election districts and ID requirements.
But on Tuesday, it was almost eerily quiet inside of The Village elementary school. Only a handful of people would step inside at any given time. Only one mask-wearing poll worker sat at any of the twelve plastic tables set up inside. Walls are decorated with signs reminding all those inside to stay six feet apart.
Some voters, like Luke Ashwin Ronaldo, 21, and Katie Siegel, 28, turned out to the polls out of convenience. Both live right around the corner the elementary school. Siegel was hoping to long lines and a packed voting floor to boost her hopes about voter turnout for November’s presidential election. Ronaldo came after his mother and siblings told him about their experiences casting ballots in nearly empty voting sites during early voting, easing his fears about potentially contracting the novel coronavirus.
But many decided to make the journey to P.S.41 on Tuesday because they had just received their absentee ballots on Monday or Sunday and worried their votes would not be counted. Some had not received them at all. A few people stopped by the voting site to drop off their sealed absentee ballots in person, according to one poll worker.
Despite the low turnout, by 11:30 a.m. only 257 people had used one of the schools’ three ballot-scanning machines, problems still popped up.
One poll worker complained that BOE inspectors were unclear in explaining every social distancing measure staff needed to abide by. Workers were instructed to wear masks and gloves but did not know if they needed to wear face shields as well. All polling staff at PS 41 wore cloth face coverings while amNY was at the scene. And workers kept face shields on hand just in case.
The BOE promised workers that they would send hand sanitizer and wipes for scanners. As of 12:30 p.m. neither product had reached the school, according to a poll worker.
“They are really understaffed. I feel like the pandemic has impacted this negatively,” said Siegel. ” I have seen a lot less volunteers, a lot less people helping out and I was accidentally got two of the same ballot and had to go back.”
Siegel was not the only voter exiting P.S.41, that said they had recieved the same ballot twice. AmNY reached out to the New York City Board of Elections for comment but did not receive an immediate answer.
For Ronaldi and 42-year-old Greenwich Village resident Laura Freundlick, a factor in the Tuesdays’ low voter turnout was the mass exodus from the borough during the early days of the novel coronavirus pandemic.