Tamir Kalifa / The New York Times

Polls close in New York State at 9 p.m.

November 2, 2020

A Cornellian’s Guide to Voting in 2020

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“Vote!” has been a call to action on everyone’s lips leading up to the election. But actually casting a ballot can be more complicated. Whether this is your first or fifth presidential election, here’s what you need to know about voting on Nov. 3.


A map of the four polling places closest to Cornell.

Chloe Wayne / Sun Graphic Designer

A map of the four polling places closest to Cornell.

In-person voting in Ithaca

Voters registered in the Ithaca area should have received an assigned polling location address on a voter reminder postcard mailed from the Tompkins County Board of Elections — but you can also check polling sites online or call the Board of Elections. Voters can only cast their ballot at the correct assigned location: If you attempt to vote at an alternate location, you will be turned away. 

Polling location assignments depend on a voter’s residential address. For those who live close to campus, possible polling locations include Alice Cook House on West Campus, Belle Sherman Annex at 70 Cornell St., Greater Ithaca Activities Center, located at 301 West Court St. and Town of Ithaca Town Hall at 215 North Tioga St. 

In previous election years, many Collegetown residents voted at the Saint Luke Lutheran Church next to the former location of Collegetown Bagels. This year, however, ongoing construction in that area has forced this polling location to close. Voters will be redirected to Ithaca Town Hall, located near the Commons in downtown Ithaca. 

Polling places in Ithaca are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. The “early voting” period has ended — the last opportunity to vote in person is on Election Day.

TCAT is also offering free bus rides on Nov. 3 to help eligible voters get to the polls. 

Absentee voting

In New York State, absentee ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3. But in many other states, postmark deadlines have passed — including in Louisiana, Alabama and Ohio. 

Cornellians living in Ithaca but voting elsewhere should complete and mail their absentee ballots to their county Board of Elections as soon as possible. Due dates for ballots vary by state. In certain states, voters who previously requested an absentee ballot are able to surrender their ballot at their local polling location if they wish to vote in person on Election Day. In response to the pandemic and an increase in early voting, some states have also implemented contactless dropboxes, allowing voters to deliver their absentee ballots to either their county Board of Elections or to their local poll site. 

While some states require a ballot be received on Election Day by specific times, others just require that a ballot be postmarked by Election Day and be received within a specified number of days after Nov. 3. New York requires absentee ballots be postmarked by Election Day and be received within seven days after Election Day. Each state’s requirements can be found here

In neighboring Pennsylvania, a key swing state which about 700 Cornell undergrads call home, absentee ballots are legitimate as long as they are postmarked by Election Day following a ruling from the state’s Supreme Court. Pennsylvania Republicans appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the court deadlocked 4-4, letting the lower court’s ruling stay in effect. Regardless, officials in the state are urging voters to hand deliver absentee ballots to respective county Boards of Elections, instead of mailing them. 

A voter casts their ballot at a polling station at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center in Houston on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. Early-voting across the nation — including in Ithaca — has seen higher turnout.

Mark Felix / The New York Times

A voter casts their ballot at a polling station at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center in Houston on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. Early-voting across the nation — including in Ithaca — has seen higher turnout.


Since Trump claimed the presidency in 2016, 15 million people turned 18 and became eligible voters. For the majority of Cornell’s undergraduate population, this will be the first opportunity to vote in a presidential election. 


Based on turnout for early voting, in Tompkins County first-time voters can expect long lines at their polling places this year, due to higher early voter turnout than in previous election years and state-mandated social distancing rules. The ballot in Ithaca will look like this

If you are voting in person, volunteers will guide you through your designated location to confirm your registration, receive a blank ballot, fill out the ballot behind a privacy shield and submit your ballot to a machine, which will tabulate your candidate choices.

If you accidentally bubble outside the lines or unintentionally select a different candidate, you can ask for a fresh ballot and start over. The other one will be thrown out and not counted.

If the machines are malfunctioning at your polling location, you can ask for a paper ballot. Similarly, if a poll worker cannot find you listed as a registered voter, you can ask for a provisional ballot.

Absentee ballot

If your absentee ballot is still sitting on your kitchen table, fill it out and mail it in as soon as possible. Every state’s ballot format looks slightly different, so make sure you are bubbling in the ovals for your intended choices.  

Organizations like Cornell Votes and Cornell-founded Voteology can provide information for locations of stamp vendors and nearby mailboxes.


To get to know each candidate before you head to the polls, check out The Sun’s 2020 Ballot Guide. The seats up for grabs vary across the country. Across the country, a number of Cornell alumni are running for office, including for the U.S. House of Representatives. Voting advocacy organizations recommend that voters familiarize themselves with the candidates before putting pen to paper.


Voter suppression can take many forms, implicit and explicit. If you feel like your vote is being unfairly obstructed, you have options to take action. 

The American Civil Liberties Union, an organization that provides legal aid combatting civil rights violations, suggests bringing multiple forms of identification — such as a driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, school ID or even a piece of mail — in the event that you need to confirm your identity or residence to poll workers.

If you are still waiting in line to enter and vote after the polling location closes, stay put. Polling locations are required to count every person who is in line at the time of close, and if the location attempts to close their doors on voters who arrived in line be locations close, you can report at a hotline.