‘Why wait?’ Meet some of the very early NY voters in the race to replace Santos

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By Dan Sears

Nearly 1,000 voters in eastern Queens and northern Nassau County requested the first early mail ballots more than a month ahead of the Feb. 13 special election to replace ex-Rep. George Santos, according to Board of Election data.

Voters in New York’s 3rd Congressional District will choose between former Rep. Tom Suozzi, the Democratic nominee, and Nassau County Legislator Mazi Pilip, who was tapped by Republicans, in a race that could have national implications as Republicans maintain a razor-thin House majority in the run-up to November’s elections.

The special election to replace Santos, who was booted from the chamber in December, marks the first test of New York’s new early voting law in a congressional contest that experts say could push candidates on both sides of the aisle to promote early voting and urge voters to request mail-in ballots.

“We know that in this cycle both parties are leaning into vote-by-mail systems in states that have those in place,” said Jarret Berg, co-founder and voting rights counsel at VoteEarlyNY, a nonpartisan nonprofit focused on voting rights issues.

A month ahead of the Feb. 13 special election, 968 voters requested early mail ballots, with 86% of those ballots requested in Nassau County, which makes up a significantly large share of the district, according to data from the New York City and Nassau County election boards that was analyzed by Gothamist. Although more than 530,000 active voters are registered in the district, turnout for special elections and in non-presidential election years has lagged significantly.

Democrats requested 66% of the early mail ballots requested as of mid-January, according to voter records. And Baby Boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — requested 46% of them. Gen Z — those born between 1997 and 2005 — made up the next largest group of voters to request ballots, at 20% of the batch.

In calls, emails and text messages, a handful of voters told Gothamist they requested early mail ballots because they received campaign mailers urging them to do so and wanted to cast their ballots as soon as possible.

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Kevin Hannigan, 37, from Glen Oaks, Queens said a pro-Pilip mailer included a QR code that linked to the New York State Board of Elections early mail ballot request portal.

“It was an incredibly easy process, so I just filled out the form,” Hannigan said in an email.

“It took fewer than two minutes; why wait?” he said referring to the upcoming election day. “It also arrived pretty quickly, so I have already voted for Mazi Pilip and sent it back.”

Mailers from the Suozzi campaign also featured two QR codes allowing voters to request their early mail or absentee ballots.

The new early vote-by-mail law took effect in January, despite an ongoing legal challenge filed by Republican lawmakers led by Rep. Elise Stefanik, who sued to throw out the law the day that Gov. Kathy Hochul signed it in September.

But across the country, Republicans are showing a renewed interest in shoring up their early vote participation. The Republican National Committee launched a campaign last June called, “Bank Your Vote,” which seeks to increase “pre-Election Day Voting,” and the push has even received support from former President Donald Trump, who had previously questioned early voting measures.

“Banking votes early needs to be the focus of every single Republican campaign in the country, and the Republican National Committee will lead the charge,” said RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel in a statement announcing the campaign.

Santos specter and national issues take focus

For a year, voters in the 3rd Congressional District have witnessed the unraveling of Santos, their former representative. Reports documented his numerous falsehoods about his background, schooling and professional experience. Santos was indicted in connection with multiple federal fraud charges in May and again in October, before House members expelled him in December, leaving his former congressional seat open. He faces an upcoming criminal trial in the fall.

Janet Davidian, 72, of Jericho, said she had been following the news surrounding Santos’ ouster and indictment and wanted to make sure she and her husband cast their ballots as soon as possible.

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“I cannot even believe that he was elected,” Davidian said. “I was in shock because my district is usually Democrat and I could see that a lot of the districts in Long Island, I have no idea what, but they turned Republican,” she added.

Davidian said she did not trust Republican leaders to vet candidates after they had nominated Santos twice — in 2020 and 2022. Santos faces roughly two dozen federal charges for misusing campaign funds, identity theft, credit card fraud, wire fraud, theft of public funds and making false statements on federal documents.

“They didn’t even check his credentials, I mean nothing: school, parents, his job, what he makes, financial, nothing,” she said.

Abortion was another top issue for Davidian. She raised concerns about whether Pilip would stand up to her party if a national abortion ban came to the House floor. Pilip, who is a registered Democrat, said abortion is a “very personal decision,” and while she personally opposes it, she told the Jewish Insider she does not support a national ban.

Glory Mayreis, 22, who is also a registered Democrat, said they supported Suozzi because their family has known him for a long time. Suozzi represented the area in Congress before Santos but did not seek re-election; instead, he chose to run for the Democratic nomination for governor against Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Mayreis said they believe Suozzi’s policies align more closely with theirs on the issues of abortion, the environment and supporting the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination.

“I know abortion is probably not being taken away or denied in New York anytime soon, but just knowing that my representative is on board with that is gratifying and peaceful,” Mayreis said.

Peter Lachina, 63, a registered Republican in Whitestone, Queens, said “that wide open border” was his top concern. Lachina said he did not trust President Joe Biden or Suozzi to address the issue, which was why he supported Pilip.

And for James Levey, 81, an unaffiliated voter in Massapequa Park, the economy is a top concern. He still works full-time for a food wholesaler that sells products to supermarkets doing new business development and store counseling.

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“I’m doing fine, and I live very nicely, and I want to continue to live very nicely. And I know that if I retire, I’m going to have to cut back on a lot of things that my wife and I enjoy, and I don’t want to do that,” Levey said.

He said he was worried that the latest news showing the economy growing and inflation falling was a “balloon that’s ready to burst” and offered an example from his own life.

“I got a haircut this morning. I pay $15 for a haircut and I give the barber a $5 tip. I walk in today and the sign says, ‘Jan. 1, haircuts, $20’. So now, that’s a 25% increase,” said Levey. “And now I know that they need that to pay the bills, to pay the rent, the electric and everything else, because everything else is going sky high. So the economy is a major concern to me.”

Levey said he was on the fence about which candidate to support, but ultimately went with Pilip because, he said, Suozzi had already had his chance in office.

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