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Early Voting Begins In New York; Election Officials Prepared For Massive Operation

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Saturday kicked off nine straight days of early voting in New York.

It's the first time in history that New Yorkers can vote early in a presidential election, CBS2's Christina Fan reported.

According to the Board of Elections, almost 94,000 people in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Richmond voted in person on Saturday.

Election officials are prepared for a massive operation, and some speedbumps along the way.

"We're not expecting perfection on those nine days. We're not expecting perfection on Election Day," said New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

Preventing early voters from getting dissuaded by misinformation is a major hurdle, officials said.

State Attorney General Letitia James is investigating robocalls attempting to do just that.

"Robocalls indicating that if you are an anti-vaxxer, if you are against vaccinations, that by voting early you will somehow be forced to take a vaccination," James said.

MORE: Tri-State Area Voter Guide

Those calls are, of course, not true, but misinformation, coupled with a recent mishap in which a vendor sent absentee ballot envelopes to people in Brooklyn with mismatched names, is enough to cause confusion.

"That has a chilling effect on people who are already concerned," said Williams.

This week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new effort to protect voters called the New York City Election Observers Corps. Volunteers will be recruited to serve as non-partisan observers outside poll sites on Election Day. They'll look for any instances of voter intimidation, suppression or harassment, then report it to staff.

MORE: Volunteers Will Look For Voter Intimidation Incidents At NYC Polling Sites, Mayor Says

Local leaders and Common Cause New York launched a non-partisan election protection program. As many as 400 volunteers will assist voters with urgent questions.

"Be sure the polling place is open on time, be sure that all the machines are working, that the lines - if there are lines - are orderly and people know how to go in and where to go," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York.

New York City has 88 early voting sites, including Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center.

MORE: Long Island Poll Sites Ready For Influx Of Early Voters

"One thing to consider is that we don't have universal poll sites, so those locations are only available for [those] who have been assigned as a poll site for early voting," said Sabrina Castillo, director of partnerships and outreach at the NYC Campaign Finance Board.

Voters waited for hours Saturday and continued to be let in long after what was supposed to be closing time at 4 p.m. If they were in line by then, they were not turned away.

Instead of crowding into Madison Square Garden for a game or concert, thousands waited in line to vote.

"There is a feeling of doing your civic duty and being part of something bigger than yourself," Chelsea resident Jordan Barbakoff said.

"Being out early is a sign and symbol for everyone else. Let's get out here and let's do this business," Chelsea resident Brian Freeman said.

From Yonkers to Washington Heights to Staten Island, you could easily identify many of the state's 280 voting locations from afar due to the big crowds with people trying, but sometimes failing, to remain six feet apart while in lines.

Watch Christina Fan's report -- 

Inside Madison Square Garden, CBS2 saw extra room and everyone with mandatory face coverings, plus plastic panels to protect voters and election staff.

CBS2 learned of some malfunctioning machines, which delayed some voters. Elections officials said some glitches were to be expected.

The art of getting out the vote was practiced by some elected officials and community members outside the Brooklyn Museum, where there was another long line.

New York City's public advocate was a speaker at a rally there, mindful some voters trust in-person voting far more than mailing their ballot in.

"Get your vote into the system. It will count and it will be protected," Williams said.

MORE: NYPD Unveils Plan To Protect New Yorkers During Elections: 'If Anyone Tries To Interfere With Anyone's Right To Vote, We Will Take Action'

"We come to do what we need to do, that's to vote," voter Stephanie Spann said.

She said she felt lucky to have the museum as her early voting location.

"To have the voting at the museum, this is fantastic because you wait on the line, you get to see some art," she told CBS2's Dave Carlin.

Spann and others came prepared with folding chairs, books and more.

Police were on hand at every spot CBS2 checked, and no major incidents were reported.

Early voting is open from Saturday, Oct. 24, through Sunday, Nov. 1.

Voters have an assigned early voting location, and start times fluctuate depending on the day and location. Locations will also be different on Election Day.

Voters can request absentee ballots until Tuesday, Oct. 27.


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