Halloween carries an additional spooky twist for New Yorkers this year as the midterm elections loom, but one local nonprofit is trying to make the democratic process less daunting.
Katie Hetlage is the communications director for Next Generation Politics, an organization that aims to engage young people — especially those from historically marginalized communities — about politics and civic discourse. She’s working with an initiative of Next Generation Politics, called Y Vote, to educate Bronxites about early voting by organizing a haunted house at Lehman College Thursday.
“We’re really just hoping to guide people through these new procedures and make them aware of how many options they have when it comes to voting,” Hetlage told the Bronx Times on Wednesday.
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed early voting into law back in 2019, and 2020 was the first year that New Yorkers were able to cast their ballots before Election Day.
But Hetlage isn’t putting on the early voting haunted house at Lehman solo.
MTV, the popular cable channel, announced in 2020 it would create a civic holiday and grant program for early voting education — partnering with more than 65 other organizations to spread the word about casting ballots prior to the election. This year, MTV said it would be distributing $100,000 worth of grants to 10 qualifying 501(c)3 nonprofits celebrating its “Vote Early Day” holiday.
Hetlage and her team at Next Generation Politics and Y Vote are celebrating the MTV holiday for the first time this year after applying for and receiving a $5,000 grant from the multimedia company.
“We are focused on youth voting and youth civic participation, so we were really interested in that,” she said.
Hetlage said the organization decided to bring the “Vote Early Day” haunted house to the Bronx because of its low voter turnout compared to other boroughs — the lowest for last year’s primary election at 19.1% compared to Manhattan, with the highest turnout at 33.4%, according to the New York City Campaign Finance Board.
Next Generation Politics and Y Vote want to make sure people know they have the option to vote at a date and time that is more convenient for them, Hetlage said.
According to the state Board of Elections, of the 2.98 million New Yorkers statewide who voted in the 2019 general election, more than 256,200 — or just around 8.6% of them — cast their ballots during the early voting period.
“Of course things come up last minute,” Hetlage said. “You never know how long those lines are going to be.”
Hetlage and Y Vote reached out to Lehman’s student government organization to put on Thursday’s early voting haunted house — which she said will include themed educational rooms such as skeletons of democracy, the mad science of voting procedures, and the tricks and treats of civic participation — as well as pumpkin carving, Halloween karaoke, mask painting and more.
“We really want to get the message out there that voting early is possible and we can make it work for you and your schedule,” Hetlage said.
Early voting in New York for the Nov. 8 midterm election starts on Saturday, Oct. 29. To check the status of your voter registration, visit https://www.nycvotersearch.com. To find out where to vote early, visit the New York City Board of Elections website.
Reach Camille Botello at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes