NEW YORK (WABC) -- New Yorkers are voting early for the first time in a general presidential election, an attractive option for anyone worried about socially distancing on Election Day or concerned about voting by mail.
Early voting began Saturday across New York State, offering voters nine days to cast their ballots prior to Election Day.
Tens of millions of people have already voted in the contentious election between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.
New York's early voting period runs until Sunday, November 1, ahead of the November 3 general election.
There will be no early voting on Monday, November 2.
Voting rights advocates hope more New Yorkers will choose to vote early in a year when overall turnout is projected to top two-thirds of 12 million registered voters.
"If we assume this will be a high interest, high turnout election, moving as many people off Election Day to participate earlier in the program is a better outcome for everyone involved," said Jarret Berg, an attorney and a co-founder of the nonprofit Vote Early New York. "People can avoid lines entirely, they can avoid any uncertainties with the mail. So we've basically rebranded voting on Election Day as the last voting option instead of the first and only opportunity."
Voters must vote at their assigned Early Voting Site.
In New York City, early voting hours are as follows:
--Saturday, October 24, 2020: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
--Sunday, October 25, 2020: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
--Monday, October 26, 2020: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
--Tuesday, October 27, 2020: 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.
--Wednesday, October 28, 2020: 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.
--Thursday, October 29, 2020: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
--Friday, October 30, 2020: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
--Saturday, October 31, 2020: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
--Sunday, November 1, 2020: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
CLICK HERE for more on voting early in New York City.
The NYPD has promised beefed up security for early voting, and Chief of Department Terence Monahan said that ensuring the safety of all voters is a top priority.
Officers will be posted at all 1,201 polling stations around the city and the 88 locations that will host early voting.
Currently, there are no known threats in connection with Election Day.
Registered voters can vote three ways in 2020: By absentee ballot, in-person early voting, or in-person voting on Election Day, November 3.
All registered voters can request an absentee ballot if they are concerned about COVID-19, but October 27 is the last day to request an absentee ballot online, via email or fax.
Application sent via regular mail must be postmarked no later than October 27. November 2 is the last day to request an absentee ballot in person.
On November 3, 2020, General Election Day, poll sites are open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Early voting has been an option in New York elections only since last year and to date a lightly used one.
Only 118,108 people chose in-person early voting during the state's September primary - or about 6.7% of the total votes cast. Nationally, around 17.3% of votes in elections are cast early.
More than 22 million Americans have already cast ballots in the 2020 election through early voting, and the apparent rush to vote is leading election experts to predict a record 150 million votes cast, with turnout rates higher than in any presidential election since 1908.
New York's nine-day early voting period is shorter than many other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. California starts early voting 29 days before Election Day, while Virginia's starts 45 days before. A bill sitting in the Assembly's election law committee would extend New York's early voting period to 14 days.
Some voters may again face long drives to get to early voting sites this year. About two-thirds of New York counties are offering just one voting location for a second year in a row.
During the June primary, state officials urged people to vote by absentee ballot rather than show up in person. New Yorkers also have that option in the general election, though some could hesitate to mail in a ballot because of mistrust of the U.S. Postal Service or because absentee ballots are often rejected for technical reasons that don't arise when someone votes in person.
The Senate and Assembly passed a bill this year to require counties to set aside at least one polling place in their most populated municipality starting in 2021. That legislation, sponsored by Sen. Neil Breslin, a Democrat, has yet to be sent to the governor's desk.
Berg said he worries that New York City voters may be confused by rules allowing them to vote early only at their assigned polling site. Outside the city, counties allow voters to vote at any early voting site.
"It makes it harder to tell people about this thing and encourage people to go vote," Berg said.
And unlike states like California, New York hasn't launched a statewide campaign aimed at educating voters about early voting. That has left it largely up to cash-strapped counties, voting rights groups and lawmakers to encourage early voting.
The Plus1Vote campaign is organizing marches of voters to head to early voting sites in Brooklyn and Manhattan on Saturday, when state Attorney General Letitia James and Sen. Zellnor Myrie will greet early voters at the Brooklyn Museum.
"To me, it's just a simple, simple change to get people the opportunity to vote," said Breslin, adding that he mailed out voting information to constituents. "Whether they do or not, that's up to them."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
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