BY CLARISSA SOSIN
Elections happen rain or shine but do they happen during what’s predicted to be the largest snowstorm the city’s seen in five years?
New York City is being throttled by a nor’easter on the eve of the first election of the year. Already more than a foot of snow has fallen bringing the city to a snow white standstill. Roads are restricted, COVID-19 vaccine appointments have been cancelled, school buildings are closed and above ground public transportation stopped mid-afternoon and isn’t set to reopen until early Tuesday morning.
And while Mayor Bill de Blasio has the city in a state of emergency as he slowly rolls out more restrictions, candidates in the February 2 City Council District 24 special election (Kew Gardens Hills, Pomonok, Electchester, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, Briarwood, Parkway Village, Jamaica Hills, Jamaica) to replace former City Councilmember Rory Lancman are wondering if the snow will bring democracy to a halt too. They are calling for the mayor to postpone the election so voters won’t have to imperil themselves to get to the polls on Tuesday, effectively disenfranchising people unable to battle the snow.
“I don’t want someone endangering themselves to come out in a foot of snow to cast a vote,” said city council candidate Soma Syed.
The candidates are worried about safe transport to and from the polls, whether or not voters will be deterred by the weather, and if there will be long lines outside in the snow because of the long lines caused by social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The snow storm is expected to go until at least 6 a.m. on Tuesday morning and to drop around two feet of snow on the city.
As of publication, Valerie Vazquez, a representative from the New York City Board of Elections, said that the special election is set to go on as planned with the polls opening at 6 a.m. –– the time the snow storm is expected to end. She did not answer as to whether or not any special precautions will be in place to help poll workers and voters get to and from the polls in the snow, nor whether the Board is concerned about voter turnout.
The mayor’s office did not respond to requests for comment or questions about whether or not postponing the election is something they are considering.
City council candidate Dilip Nath said that the mayor must postpone the election because of the storm.
“Holding the election is blatant disenfranchisement of voters that are not able-bodied and voters that do not have a reliable method of transportation,” he said. “It is unsafe for all voters, but especially the vulnerable among us.”
New York City has chronically low voter turnout with special elections having especially low numbers of voters casting a ballot. In the City Council District 24 special election, some voters have already made their voices heard through absentee and early voting. According to the BOE, 2,039 people voted early in the special election.
City council candidate Dr. Neeta Jain said that she’s concerned about voter turnout as well if the election takes place tomorrow. But, she and her campaign are operating as though the election will take place despite the storm. Her volunteers are reaching out to people to remind them that if they haven’t voted, that they should do so tomorrow.
However, she’s concerned about the polls. The storm and the state of emergency are currently scheduled to end at 6 a.m., the same time that the polls are supposed to open. Will they open on time? Will they open later?
“We have no clue at this point,” she said. “We have no information whatsoever.”
Ultimately, whether or not the election happens tomorrow is out of their hands, she said.
“If we make a comment and not make a comment is not going to make a difference,” she said.
Candidates Moumita Ahmed, James Gennaro and Deepti Sharma did not immediately respond to request for comment.
This story originally appeared on our sister publication QueensCountyPolitics.com.