Hours-long waits to vote in New York City prompt calls for change

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Early voting is proving to be incredibly popular in New York City amid the coronavirus pandemic, with nearly a half million votes cast in the first four days. But that has led to long lines, with some -- including Mayor Bill de Blasio -- waiting for hours to cast their ballots.

Now, six days before the general election, de Blasio is calling for fundamental changes to the Board of Elections.

The mayor got in line around 1:15 p.m. Tuesday and had to wait three and a half hours, even ordering food from Smiling Pizza and handing out slices while he waited.

"Let's face it, the fundamental problem is the Board of Election," he said Wednesday. "I wish the city had direct control of the board. We do not. It's something that needs to be reexamined immediately, because the Board of Elections structure simply doesn't work. It is arcane. It is from literally form another century. It was built for another time. It was built on the wrong concepts for what we need today. So I want to suggest three specific actions that could be taken to address this crisis. Because it's not just the lines this week or next week, it's every single election."

RELATED: New York early voting: What you need to know

The mayor is calling for:
1. A Constitutional amendment to fundamentally change the Board of Elections
2. Pass legislation in Albany that professionalizes the BOE
3. Move to structure the BOE like the campaign finance board that is bipartisan and functional

"There shouldn't have been a situation where voters had to wait for hours and hours," de Blasio said.

Related: Early Voting in New York - Info, links and resources

The state Board of Elections sent a reminder to local boards that it's against state regulations to have voters waiting in lines that exceed 30 minutes, prompting hours to be extended in New York City.

The extended hours will go into effect this weekend, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Sunday is the last day of early voting.

The extra hours add up to a total of nine extra hours for New Yorkers to cast their votes.

RELATED: New York officials optimistic about fixes to mail-in voting system

Even with the long waits, however, voters seemed to be taking it in stride.

"We're celebrating our citizenship and our right to vote and democracy," one voter said.

By Lincoln Center, where lines were long Tuesday, a small line started forming five hours before the door were to open Wednesday.

"People are really fired up," another voter said. "People are really informed about what's going on, and that people want to participate in the direction and the future of the USA, and I think that's a good thing. The more the merrier."

Statewide, nearly a million people voted on the first four days of early voting, more than 5% of the 11.7 million registered voters in the state.

The NYC Board of Elections says 1,102,313 absentee ballot applications had been processed by the end of business Monday, with another 5,924 applications still awaiting processing.

As of Wednesday, nearly 600,000 people had voted early in New York City.



There is no early voting on November 2 ahead of the November 3 general election.

CLICK HERE to find your polling place, and CLICK HERE to browse by county for times and places where you can vote early.

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