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Play-by-Play of Early Voting in NYC

Two hours, waiting in line, on a Saturday morning

Melissa Toldy
Oct 25 · 7 min read
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9:44 am — “I’m ready,” my partner says. We put our voter registration cards in our wallets, and we don our face masks, and we walk outside.

10:00 am — Early voting center opens its doors.

10:10 am — We are in a line that wraps around the block, twice.

10:11 am — “Are you sure you don’t want to come back during the week?” I ask my partner. He says he has a busy work schedule.

10:12 am — A woman in line ahead of us turns around and shouts, “I think the wait is worth it!” She’s not only talking to us; she’s yelling to the general crowd.

10:20 am — We’re still in line, and I feel okay about it. I remembered that the weather forecast is rainy for the next few days. Today is overcast, but not wet.

10:22 am — Cars honk at us, in solidarity.

10:29 am — I hear voters comment on the double-wrapped line. “We’re not socially distanced.” One line hugs the building, and the other line skirts the edge of the sidewalk. “There’s not even six feet between us.”

10:30 am — The woman ahead of us, the one who shouted “I think the wait is worth it!” has many friends in the neighborhood. She calls out to people passing by and says, “Hey! Can you believe this? People really want him out!”

10:33 am — My partner points out a woman wearing two “I Voted” stickers on her chest. “Did she vote twice?” he jokes.

10:37 am — A mask-less man walks between the two lines and appears to be having a conversation with himself. He’s shouting something about RZA and the Wu-Tang clan. My partner says it sounded like the guy was debating with someone, but we don’t see any evidence of a communication device.

10:41 am — We notice a banner hanging from a balcony on the nearby building that reads, “Thank You Voters.”

10:43 am — Cars honk, and my partner grumbles, “Don’t honk, come vote.”

10:50 am — The double line has receded, and we’re now only wrapped around the block, once. A woman walks by and asks, “Is this the line for the deli?”

10:52 am — My partner and I talk about the movie we watched last night, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Then we talk about the word “gypsy,” and how most Americans might not get the cultural reference. Both of us have roots in Eastern Europe.

10:57 am — Woman in line ahead of us, the one who has a lot of friends, says, “I’m thinking about setting up a coffee cart out here.” I nod and say I could use a snack. “Or music,” the woman says. “Music would be good.”

11:04 am — “Look at those pretty red flowers,” my partner says. He’s pointing at a building covered in ivy. “Red leaves,” he says. We admire the fall colors, and I think this, but I don’t say it out loud: Those pretty leaves are destroying that building.

11:13 am — A young girl’s voice echoes out through the crowd, Crimson and clover … What a beautiful feeling … Over and over. Guitar music accompanies the vocals.

11:14 am — My partner tells me that wearing a mask isn’t necessary, for voting. No one can be turned away, since voting is a right.

11:15 am — “Do you hear that?” the woman in line ahead of us asks. “Do you hear that girl singing? I love it.” I nod and say, “You got your music.”

11:17 am — Cars honk, and we remember the 7pm noise-making when the pandemic began. People shouted from their windows, clapping and cheering. Over time, less and less people participated, but this one person in our neighborhood kept up the ritual. They got into their car and honk, honk, honked.

11:20 am — We see the man from earlier, the one shouting about the Wu-Tang, walking on the other side of the street, still shouting, apparently, to himself. Now he has a mask, wrapped around his chin. “Chin diaper,” my partner says.

11:22 am — The young girl we heard singing “Crimson and Clover” is now playing a tiny violin. A man, presumably her father, plays guitar with her. They’re standing at the top of the stairs, in an alcove of the building we’re wrapped around. A woman, presumably the mother, sits on the stairs, changing an infant’s diaper.

11:25 am — We clap for the family musical group. The girl says, “I need a break,” and they stop playing. “I want my sesame snacks,” the girl tells her mother. She opens a bag of dried seaweed.

11:27 am — “I haven’t seen anyone wearing ‘I Voted’ stickers,” the woman in line ahead of us says. “We did,” I tell her. “We saw a woman with two on her chest.” I say this, and I gesture dramatically, as if I’m placing two stickers on me, both my palms open wide, making contact with the space between my neck and breasts.

11:31 am — A man joins the woman in line behind us. She’s been reading a book, to pass the time. He brings her snacks and a knit poncho, and he asks her if she’s going to make it to [some event]. She says maybe. When he walks away, they both say, “Love ya.”

11:33 am — I’m tempted to turn around and ask her why her friend wasn’t voting, too. I’m just curious, but not curious enough to ask her.

11:38 am — The woman in line ahead of us, the one who said, “I think the wait is worth it!” asks us, “So, do we have to wrap around the building again?” She says it will probably take three hours; I say, I think it’ll be at least two.

11:45 am — I think about how New Yorkers are known for being impatient, but then we agree to wait a long time for things we really want. Like, I remember when a two-hour wait for a restaurant table was normal. The Meatball Shop on the Lower East Side comes to mind.

11:50 am — We’re on a colder side of the building. I zip up my jacket, and my partner pulls his hoodie over his ears.

11:52 am — The woman, the one who keeps turning around to talk to us, she suddenly steps out of line and says, “Well, I gotta go to the bathroom.” She’s been slurping on a giant cup of coffee for the last hour. I tell her we’ll save her spot, and she says, “Thanks.”

12:03 pm — My partner tells me they auditioned 600 actors for the role of Borat’s daughter in the new film. I ask him if that’s a lot? Neither of us knows the answer.

12:05 pm — We reach the corner, where there’s a deli, and my partner asks me if I want a snack. I’m hungry, but I don’t want to eat outside, in the cold. I keep my hands stuffed in my jacket pockets.

12:06 pm — We speculate on whether or not the woman will return to the line. “Maybe she’ll be waiting for us when we reach the end,” my partner says.

12:12 pm — We’re back where we started, only this time, we’re in the line hugging the building, and there is no second (double-wrapped) line. Two women ask us where they can find the end. My partner says, “The beginning or the end?” I say, “You’re looking to join the line, right?” We’re both overthinking their question. A man in line ahead of us says, “I’d walk that way,” and points east.

12:19 pm — I’m swaying because all this standing has got my low back unhappy. We start discussing lunch plans. I remember there’s a salad I made yesterday, ready and waiting for us. We have cooked buckwheat, too. And eggs. I feel good, knowing there’s food at home.

12:20 pm — The woman who left the line earlier, walks by. We call out to her, but she doesn’t hear us. She’s walking fast, like a typical New Yorker. She keeps walking, and we expect to see her again, soon.

12:21 pm — “Look at these little pine cones,” my partner says. There’s a bush with red berries and inch-long brown cones. “I saw,” I say. “But did you touch them?” he asks.

12:22 pm — We’re very close now. We’re standing by the exit door, situated fifty feet from the entrance door. We watch people raise their arms when they come out. Wooo! Some of them shout. A man exits, and he meets up with a woman. She says, “You took so long. I was starting to wonder if I had done something wrong.” He explains that he read the instructions, before voting. “But it’s just filling in the circles, right?” she asks. The man explains that no one reads the instructions, but he wanted to read the instructions, because he waited in line for two hours. The woman says, “Okay, okay. Let’s go eat.” Then they argue about where they’re going to eat.

12:23 pm — My partner and I wonder what happened to the woman who left the line. Did she start over, at the end of the line, or did she talk her way into the building, or did she go home? My partner still thinks she might be waiting for us at the entrance.

12:26 pm — We go inside. “Are you here to vote?” someone asks us. “Yes!” we reply.

12:27 pm — We approach a table. The woman behind the plexiglass says, “One at a time, please.” My partner steps back and waits. I hand her my voter card. She scans it, confirms my address, and she tells me, “There are two sides.” Another woman hands me a folder with the ballot inside.

12:29 pm — I fill in the circles and feed the paper into the voting machines. I grab a sticker on my way out.

12:32 pm — I wait for my partner outside, and I think about that hungry couple who shouted at each other. My partner walks out, and says, “All right! We did it.”

12:37 pm — We walk home, wearing our “I Voted Early” stickers. People ask us, “How long was the wait?” and “Was there a long line?” We tell them, in unison, “Two hours.”

12:40 pm — We wonder what happened to the woman, again. We don’t know. We’ll never know.

12:41 pm — Home again, we eat food, and we say, “We did it. We did it.”

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