An hour inside a polling site in Astoria

The outside of P.S. 171 Peter G. Van Alst in Astoria. Photo by Jose Cardoso

The gym inside P.S. 171 Peter G. Van Alst, one of the city’s polling sites in Astoria, was mostly silent on Tuesday afternoon. There was no conversation except for the occasional whisper and brief conversations between poll workers and voters to clarify last names. 

If it wasn’t for COVID-19, the primary election might have generated more foot traffic. Between early voting and mail-in absentee ballots, the gym was nearly empty. But, despite the pandemic, some residents took the risk and came out to vote. All of them respected social distancing. 

An older lady walked inside. 

“Ma’am, you need a mask!” said one of the poll workers. 

The lady looked around to see who was speaking to her. She mumbled something to herself and whipped out a handkerchief of sorts and wrapped it around her face.  

One of the poll workers, an older man, struggled to check voters in. His hands shook while typing in names with the stylus pen. When he finally completed the process, the worker handed the folder with the two ballot sheets and a sticker to the person waiting to cast their vote.

“You’re in the wrong location….” said another poll worker to an aspiring voter. The voter, confused, walked out of the gym. 

Outside, an older man sat on the stoop. Nearby hung posters for different candidates –– Suraj Patel, Elizabeth Crowley. 

Volunteers from the different campaigns set up small tables with paraphernalia –– posters, souvenirs –– asking passerbys, “Hey! Did you vote?” Sometimes they were ignored, sometimes answered. 

A few voters were confused about where to enter.

“Is this the entrance or over there?” said one lady. 

She chose the entrance closest to her and walked towards it up the wheelchair accessible ramp.