how was your week?

1,613 New York Readers on Civic Participation and Early Voting in 2020

‘I have donated more money this election cycle than in my whole life combined.’

Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images
Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

This spring, in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, New York began conducting a weekly poll to learn more about how the pandemic was upending our readers’ lives. Thousands of you opened up to us about the havoc this year was wreaking on your mental health, work-life balance, future plans, and more. Now, as the virus continues to spread across the country while the increasingly unpredictable and chaotic presidential campaigns play out, we’ve restarted it. This week: How you’ve participated in the run-up to this year’s election and your experiences with early in-person voting around the country.

How would you describe your emotional state right now?

Very anxious and/or scared: 29%
Somewhat anxious and/or scared: 36%
Concerned: 27%
Slightly concerned: 6%
Totally fine: 2%

Have you had COVID-19 at any time in the past seven months?

Yes: 4%
No: 88%
I think I may have had it but couldn’t get tested in time: 8%

Do you know anyone else who has had it?

Yes: 80%
No: 20%

Have you ever taken a coronavirus test?

Yes: 45%
No: 55%

Do you, or does anyone in your household, fear that your work puts you at significant risk of contracting the virus?

Yes: 28%
No: 72%

How would you rate the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic?

Great!: 1%
Reasonably fine: 2%
Just okay: 1%
Flawed: 2%
An unmitigated disaster: 94%

Has the pandemic changed your decision about whom to vote for in the presidential election?

Yes: 5%
No: 94%
I’m still undecided: 1%

Has the pandemic changed your decision about whom to vote for in your state or local elections?

Yes: 11%
No: 88%
I’m still undecided: 1%

How are you planning to vote?

In person on Election Day: 11%
In person during early voting: 30%
By mail or drop-off: 52%
I’m not voting, by choice: 1%
I’m not voting, because I’m not eligible: 6%

If you’re voting early or by mail, have you voted already?

Yes: 89%
No: 11%

Have you experienced a furlough, job loss, or pay cut as a result of the recession?

Yes: 39%
No: 61%

If so, have you since returned to work, found new employment, or had your normal pay reinstated?

Yes: 39%
No: 61%

Has anyone in your household received unemployment benefits during the past seven months?

Yes: 26%
No: 74%

If so, how did the end of the $600/week federal payment affect you?

I’m struggling to cover basic necessities without it: 21%
I’m having more financial stress, but I’m able to get by: 45%
I’m doing relatively fine: 35%

If you voted early in person, tell us about your experience at the polls.

“I requested an absentee ballot, but it was eaten by a family member’s dog (true story). I happened to have my plans to be away from the country change and was able to vote in person. The line was not long, everyone was wearing masks and were properly distanced, and I filled out a form to cancel my absentee ballot. Overall a fine experience.”

“Marvelous. Kentucky has a wonderful governor, secretary of State, and County Clerk system. Great communication, clear ballots, easy access to multiple drop boxes in our large populated county. Couldn’t be easier, no crowds or waiting even now with early voting started.”

“I chose to take advantage of the opportunity to vote at Fenway Park, which felt like a very Boston/2020 thing to do. I opted to go later in the afternoon rather than when they first opened, hoping the line would be shorter. It was, and the entire process took me 45 minutes. That is, however, the longest I’ve ever waited in line to vote.”

“Though lines were always long, as polling locations in my parish were limited, things moved swiftly. Social distancing was mandated, but mask-wearing was not, and it concerned me that so many elected not to wear a mask in line. A police officer was posted outside of the polling location, and the area was covered in signage detailing the rules against campaigning for any candidate at the polling location. Aside from the glaring and mortifying mask issue, the rest of the polling setup felt safe and was efficient.”

“It was great! Quick waiting period, about eight minutes total. All COVID and social-distancing regulations were followed. Polling place offered hand sanitizer, gloves, or a fresh unused pencil to use in the polling booth to press the buttons. Voting itself took less than ten minutes. Once exiting, hand sanitizer was offered again and a place to dispose of gloves and pencil was also available.”

“I voted the first day that early voting opened in Chicago. The line was about 1.5 hours long and was entirely outside — the actual voting took place in an auditorium with 20 people tops inside. I didn’t consider that the line would take a lot longer because there would only be, like, seven kiosks. But I have never seen a crowd that was more enthusiastic about a 1.5-hour line.”

“I live in Charlotte, NC, and voted at a local high school. The polls opened up at 8 a.m. and I got there about 8:15. I waited for 30-45 minutes outside. Luckily it was sunny and a nice day. Everyone in line was wearing a mask. We got these awesome pens where the back end was a stylus, so we used that same pen to sign our name upon entering and then use the stylus to select our entries to vote on the touch screen. Everyone was really upbeat and happy. I cried when making my selections. I just felt so proud of Joe, Kamala, and the other candidates who made it to the final round. I also cried because I can’t believe I voted with a face mask on and a single-use pen, and that Donald’s name was still on the screen.”

“Waited in line an hour (south Florida). No problems. Just the website said it was an under 15-minute wait, and this was quadruple that. Also our mail-in ballots never came. Husband went to a different location [on a] different day. Said there was some kerfuffle in line about mask-wearing. But nothing too bad. He got in and out in under 30 minutes.”

“Eight-hour wait! Early voting first day at 250 East 75th St. Five of six voting machines BROKEN! Four-hour wait to hand in vote-by-mail ballot at this place. DISASTER. Neighborhood to major 65- to 90-year-old [population]. UNACCEPTABLE! So distraught with [this] voting nightmare.”

“On the first Sunday that early voting opened, I drove 25 minutes to a rural voting facility. There was no line and only two other people were voting simultaneously to me, so it was easy to social distance. The only problem was that the signage was very poor. When I first went to the door of the town hall it was locked. So I returned to my car and turned around to head home when I saw another car pull in and proceed to the rear of the building where it was clearly marked as a polling place. The following day, Monday, I called the County Board of elections to alert them to this ‘problem.’ They said they would take care of it.”

“The wait was two hours. Everyone was calm and polite, but I somehow got stuck in line behind a guy who: stepped off of line to pee behind a dumpster (even though a poll worker said he could use the bathroom inside the polling place); when offered free snacks by two young women volunteers, took two; exaggerated (by an extra 45 minutes) when a woman who was considering getting on line inquired how long we’d been waiting; asked a poll worker for an ‘I Voted’ sticker before we were even inside.”

“I live in a suburb of Albany, NY, and I waited in line for about 30 minutes. There were a lot of people! The line moved quickly and everyone was happy to be there. Lots of enthusiasm.”

“Double masked up, but poll workers were not wearing masks. Plexiglass was up when signing in BUT stupidly voting machines were right next to one another. Rural Texas … what can I say!”

“I voted in Brooklyn (Williamsburg) at one of the early voting days and the process was extremely seamless. I arrived around 4 p.m., waited in line outside for less than ten minutes (amid a six-foot spaced-out line), then once inside the process was running extremely smoothly. All and all I was in and out with my Biden/Harris vote cast in less than 20 minutes.”

“I voted at one of only five early polling places in Indianapolis on 10/26/2020. It took two and a half hours from the time I got in line until I dropped my ballot in the box.”

“I waited on line for five hours at my early voting polling place in Brooklyn. Once inside, there was a minor issue printing my ballot but it was otherwise smooth and well-staffed. I worried the very low lighting in the venue (Kings Theatre) may have been an issue for other voters.”

“It was easy. Though I thought the signs were misleading. They said ‘Emergency Voting’ and nowhere did it say ‘Early Voting.’ Assume everyone figured it out but don’t know why there needed to be this sort of unnecessary confusion. The poll workers were lovely and everyone in line was as well. There was a joke made that it technically was emergency voting.”

“I voted on the first day of early voting in New York State and waited on line for four and a half hours. I had a feeling that lines would probably be long but I really did not want to wait one more day before voting. Generally, everyone on line around me was patient and the mood was pretty upbeat. It felt good to be doing something positive among a large group of people after having spent most of the year avoiding crowds. I hope the Board of Elections can address the wait time in future election cycles but, in this case, I was happy to be there.”

Tell us about your involvement in this election cycle. Are you voting, or not voting, for the first time? Have you donated, volunteered, phone/text banked, or canvased for the first time, or more or less frequently than in previous elections?

“I signed up to be a poll worker on Election Day because the thought of any person being unable to vote conveniently because his/her/their polling location was unable to open due to lack of volunteers terrified me.”

“I’ve donated (even though I’m unemployed), written letters, phone banked, and am participating in a telethon to raise money to donate. This is way more than I’ve done before, and can I just say, phone banking for Biden is like having my teeth pulled. It’s so hard to try to sell the guy who, just eight months ago, I was doing everything in my power to keep from getting the nomination — but I just tell myself to keep an eye on the greater goal.”

“Have donated significantly to candidates, staffed our local Democratic headquarters, written letters to Michigan via Vote Forward, written well over 200 postcards to Georgia via Postcards to Swing States, will be text banking this coming Saturday and Monday, and working as a poll challenger on Election Day, have signs in the yard.”

“In the past I have been a trained poll watcher (first Obama run). Now I am at risk to work in person, and am retired, so made donations to ActBlue (includes down-ballot support), M.J. Hegar vs. John Do-Nothing Cornyn, for example. I am scared to put out a yard sign and note many fewer yard signs this year (about evenly split). I don’t post anything political or express my opinion except quietly when asked. I have a neighbor with QAnon signage on her car. I only talk politics to my friends (not including some family members, BTW).”

“Didn’t vote in 2016. Will never make that choice again.”

“I’ve donated even more money this cycle (though it’s not much, maybe $1,000 this year), giving much more to competitive Senate and House races to try to ensure an institutional bulwark to protect Democratic votes. I had wanted to be a poll worker for the first time, but my preexisting health vulnerabilities and the increasing case rate has me frankly too scared to do that.”

“I did a huge amount of volunteering for Bernie, and a fair bit in the NYC local Democratic primaries here in Queens. I am not volunteering for Biden.”

“I’m a newer immigrant from Canada. This is my second presidential election, and I acquired my citizenship in 2013 specifically to be able to vote. A permanent resident cannot have a say politically, but experiences the full effect of policy decisions every day. I’ve been engaged more this time as a voter, participating in text banking, political discussions, outreach, and donations. I’ve encouraged involvement in the primaries and engaged with voters in different states to help them find ballot places, register, and know their rights. I’m far more involved this election because the last one hinged on a few thousand votes in my state. Historically minorities are underrepresented, so I’m putting my privilege (white, educated, Canadian) to use to help other voters be heard.”

“I have donated more money to political campaigns this year than I’ve donated cumulatively in my whole life. I’ve written and mailed hundreds of postcards, volunteered as a poll greeter, and phone banked (for the first time). I’ve attended at least one election-related event a week (virtually) since at least April. I’m exhausted, but in 2016 I didn’t do enough. This year I’m doing all I can to remove the criminal from the White House.”

“I have volunteered as an election-protection attorney in swing states every year since 2012. I was set to go to Pennsylvania this year, but backed out because of all of the people bringing guns to polling places and the escalation of rhetoric and political violence in general. I firmly believe in protecting the right to vote, but I’m not about to have my baby grow up without a mom because a nutcase shot up a polling place where I was volunteering. So I am doing a hotline instead. It doesn’t feel great to opt out like that, but at a certain point you do have to think about these choices in these terms.”

“This will be my third time voting in a presidential election. I previously voted by absentee ballot in 2012 and in person in 2016. This year was the first year I’ve donated small amounts to support my candidate. I come from a family of immigrants and have had conversations with my family about the importance of voting. Many of my family members unfortunately do not want to vote as they believe their vote won’t matter or that they don’t support either candidate, but I want them to recognize the power of our votes as Chinese Americans.”

“I’m voting in my third presidential election. It’s my first presidential election in a swing state, Wisconsin. I am inundated by calls, texts, and mailers, and I’m starting to get a little irked when I see friends in other states Instagramming their postcards to voters in swing states like mine, reminding them to vote. Honestly, maybe those do help, but most of the people I’ve talked to who are getting them are fed up. The calls, I think, help more, because callers are able to talk potential voters through how to request their ballots, or check their registration, and basically interact based on what others need. The “tell Wisconsin to vote!” attitude, of especially the postcards and letters, feels like it’s more for the people sending them, to feel like they’re helping, than for the people here — and after a summer full of performative wokeness (in addition to people doing the work!) I’m just …ugh. I work in public radio, so I can’t donate, phone/text bank, or canvas — about all I can do is cast my ballot, make sure my family is casting theirs, and keep working on stories that tell people about the issues and the voting process.”

“I canvased and phone banked in previous elections, both presidential and governor, while living in southern Ohio. I did not canvas or call this year. A healthy mix of hope and rage used to push me to doorsteps and phone banks. Now the only thing I feel is tired. Rage still simmers to the surface, but there is no hope left in me. I dread that even if Biden wins, Trump will not accept the results. I don’t know what that would look like, but there is a long time between Election Day and Inauguration Day. I fear the worst for each of those days.”

“I have never been more outspoken in my life, particularly about wearing a mask and voting. This year I wrote postcards to voters for the first time. I also (finally) convinced my younger brother — who voted for Trump in 2016 — that another four years of this would gut any semblance of social programs or environmental protection we had, drive good people out of government, and completely decimate our democracy. All I had to do was promise to pay any ‘gun taxes’ — all he has to do is take a photo of his ballot with the Biden circle filled in. He will register day of. Nothing has felt this existential in my 27 years of life. I am terrified.”

“I am voting in person on Election Day for Joe Biden. I have only voted in two presidential elections, Gore in 2000 and Clinton in 2016. This election was the first time I have ever donated money or time to any campaign.”

“This is my second time voting. I actually attended college at Hillary Clinton’s alma mater so Election Night of 2016 was a lot. 2016 was my first election and I was a freshman in college. It definitely awakened my political awareness. Summer of 2019 I got more interested in the political process because I saw how Hillary lost but also how Trump needed to go. I liked Biden before my friends and thought he had the best chance to beat Trump for all the reasons we are seeing now. In this election, I donated for the first time after RBG’s death and then again Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation. I texted for a Florida start-up to make sure people were registered to vote and double-check their application went through. This is a very important election for a plethora of reasons and I wanted to help make sure Biden wins in any way I can.”

“I have donated but wish I had done more. I am helping my siblings figure out their mail-in ballot and have convinced my grandma to vote for Biden.”

“I have donated more money this election cycle than in my whole life combined. I am terrified that if we don’t evolve politically, quite simply, we are all going to die.”

“I’ve been throwing $50 at a cause or a candidate every time the news makes me feel bad (often). I’d never done any election-related volunteering before, but this year I wrote 500 Vote Forward letters (a good quarantine activity, and each one felt like sending a little prayer into the world) and texting for campaigns (addictive and satisfying).”

“I am going to serve as a poll worker for the first time, so that is fascinating. I have a deeper appreciation for the checks and balances of the voting system after the four-hour training. I think the NYC Board of Elections is doing a great job under enormous stress on the system, little money to spend, and a pandemic situation in a massive city. Another thing I did for the first time was write letters for Vote Forward prior to the Big Send on October 17. My husband and I sent out 200 handwritten letters to fellow citizens and fellow Democrats in Georgia, Ohio, Texas, and Alabama. Somehow, that exercise made me feel calmer about the state of the nation, just writing the names and addresses of other Americans from other places. I donate as much money as I can to as many candidates across the nation who are running against senators who hold office today inside the ruling party. They need to go and money is needed to boot them out. So I give and give and give … and it hurts, but I keep giving, because letting these vampires continue to drain the life out of our nation’s veins at the cost of human and civil rights, the economy, action on climate change, our legal system, our environment … well, it is important to give until it hurts and then give more. I designed an Election Day T-shirt and sold them on Bonfire, making money for voting-rights orgs. That was another thing I have never done before. Technology, while horrible on many levels, is also very powerful on other levels.”

“I’m voting in person instead of by mail because of Alabama being a red state and I don’t remember what my signature looked like on my registration. And I do not trust John Merrill at all. I donated maybe $20 in 2017. I’ve rage-donated close to $300 this year.”

“I’ve voted in every election since 1975. But this was the first year I got off the bench and actively campaigned for my Democratic congressperson and Joe Biden. I’ve actively recruited people and have handwritten 100 postcards. This is the first time in my life I’ve ever put up a lawn sign. Plus, I’ve been active in state politics as well … personally attending fundraisers for my Democratic state representative. Plus, I’ve given money to ActBlue, to the battle in Texas, and to the opponents of Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham. I look at it as force-multiplying my vote. And I made sure to keep my raised activity from my Republican friends, so they think I’m responsible for a single vote when I’m working feverishly to be responsible for many more.”

*Note: Not every respondent answered every question.

1,613 Readers on Civic Participation and Early Voting