This past weekend, Friday to Saturday, one-fifth of the nation cast early in-person votes at polling sites around the nation. It was a bright light amidst the dark and devastating statistics of COVID deaths, poverty lines, mothers dropping out of the workforce, high unemployment, overcrowded hospitals, and rising crime.
They say a crisis forces rethinking and reassessing of your life and all that matters. That may be the reason so many people are coming out to vote all across the nation.
At the centrally-located Brooklyn Masonic Temple on Lafayette Avenue, Sunday, it appeared most early voters were in deep thought; it was calm and orderly, but when voters got to the historic Masonic Temple’s great tall doors the mood changed. There was a sense of urgency, and voters appeared to dash as though the doors might be closed on them.
The spacious hall is a study in terra cotta majesty, every detail modelled after the Temple of King Solomon. It’s one of four buildings of its kind in America, and seemed a fitting place for this United Nations of a queue line snaking around Clinton Hill.
On the first day of early in-person voting, Saturday, Oct. 24, over 93,000 people came out to vote in New York City. Michael C. Bernard, President, Brooklyn Masonic Temple, described the scene.
“The Temple has plenty of space; it’s a great place to hold [the voting]. Social distancing is easier here than some other places,” noted Bernard.
“The Masonic Temple has been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic but it was opened for this epic event for the early voting,” Bernard added. “And I’ve been here for almost 10 years; this all feels like witnessing history in one of the most historic buildings on the East Coast.”
At 9:00am, people already were waiting to vote. Lines wrapped around the block, down Lafayette and Vanderbilt, all the way down to DeKalb and around that block. The people in line ranged from ages 20 to 85. An elderly woman slowly walked in with a walker, announcing to others in line that she had to get her vote in. People were eager. The numbers of people turning out were a sight to behold.
Some of this early in-person turnout was motivated by fear. Voters said they wanted to walk in their ballots because they didn’t think mail-in ballots would get counted.
While the Board of Elections handles voting-related matters, Bernard and the Masons manage building operations and troubleshoot challenges that may arise at the Masonic Temple. Bernard explained that as Masons they do not take on any political preference but support the right to vote. He plans to vote in his home state, New Jersey, on Nov. 3 Election Day.
“It’s so meaningful to me personally to vote in this election,” Bernard added with emotion. “As a Black man in America today where we are still being suppressed, harassed, beaten, and killed, we need to be heard. We need to vote. It’s our right. We need a president who’s fair to all nationalities.”
Voting in this election also is meaningful for Camille, who waited for her chance to vote outside the Temple. “I have voted in every election since I was able to,” said Camille, adding, “But habit is not the reason I’m here today. I look back and think my ancestors stood on lines for me, and they went through more than I ever will go through, but I’m here—for them and for me. It’s the most important election of my lifetime. I must do it for my grandmother, who did it for me.”
Some New Yorkers were motivated but what they described as the “insanity” in the White House. Said one Filipino car service driver and mother of an eight-year-old girl, “I’m voting when I get off from work on Election Day. It’s my very first time voting. I was never like this before about voting. Ever. I’m voting because I want to kick his a– out of office. I am an immigrant. My daughter is half-black. [The President] will never care about her. He never cared about me.”
Two New Yorkers said they had no plans to vote. “Why? Why should I?” and “What’s it gonna do for me?”
When asked if it mattered to have a choice in who runs the country and makes decisions about your life, one respondent said, “Trump’s not gonna get back in. Nahhh. You don’t have to worry about that. He’s not getting back in. The people ain’t gonna let it happen.”
Nia is 20-year-old student at Albany State en route to her Long Island home. She is tall, of regal bearing, and explains her name means “purpose” and “developing our community to restore the people to greatness.” Nia “can’t wait to vote,” adding, “I feel I’m doing something important. I don’t understand people who say they’re not voting, don’t understand it at all. I’m actually excited about it.”
And then there’s A. Price, an affable young man who’s worked with Amtrak for many years. “Yes, I’m in the Tech Generation. You know, when I came here 12 years ago I filled out an application. I don’t even know what those look like any more. I wouldn’t know what to do with it if you gave me one,” he laughed.
But for Price, voting should be a transactional process. “In other cultures, when you give something of so much importance, you get something back. I’m definitely voting, but I have one question for you: what will I get for my vote?” In response to the comment he might get a better team to lead the country, Price answered:
“And you’re right, but what are THEY giving me for my vote. Nobody’s talking about how the country is going to be helped economically. Talking about my generation, we’re in a bad way. But that’s NOT stopping me from voting.”
Barry L. Mason, the photographer who took most of the Westchester County images accompanying this story as well as the cover photo, was inspired by the experience of documenting voters waiting in line. Later, he joined the line. Mason arrived at Mt. Vernon City Hall for Our Time Press at 11am. He said the experience was transformational; he at 9:00pm on behalf of his ancestors.
Brandon H. at Underwood Park and Playground on Lafayette and Washington gets the last word. “Why are am I voting this year? Want me to write a list of reasons?” he quipped. “It’s long.”
“First and foremost,” he said, “I just want to get this joker out of the White House. And we all have an obligation to do it, especially given what our ancestors and forefathers and mothers went through. There’s all the rest: restoring our stance in the world, the Supreme Court issue, health policy and on and on. Personally, I need to do it for the next generation.”