By Staff Reports
Newburyport Daily News
---- — After months of fiercely fought campaigns, it all comes down to today.
With intense interest in races from president to the region’s U.S. senator and representative as well as state races — many of which are too close to call — driving participation, area city and town clerks are bracing for record-breaking turnout at the polls.
Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin is projecting today’s turnout will top that of 2008 when a record 3.1 million Massachusetts voters cast ballots.
Galvin predicted between 3.1 million to as many as 3.2 million Massachusetts residents out of a pool of 4.34 million eligible voters — or between 71.4 percent and 73.7 percent of registered voters — will turn out today.
Polls in Massachusetts are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Polls in New Hampshire are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The greatest participation rate in Massachusetts dating back to 1948 is still the 1960 presidential contest won by John F. Kennedy when 2.5 million residents, or 91.7 percent, voted, according to Galvin’s office.
Massachusetts voters during the 2008 presidential election set a record in the state for votes cast and marked the highest voting percentage, at 73.5 percent, since the 1996 presidential election year when 75.1 percent of registered voters turned out.
Here’s what is being expected in local communities:
City officials here say that they are expecting a heavy turnout, perhaps higher than that of four years ago.
“There was about an 88 percent turnout in 2008,” City Clerk Richard Jones said. “Indications are it could be a little stronger, perhaps 90 percent.”
Close to 1,145 absentee ballots had been received by yesterday afternoon. In 2008, absentee ballots numbered 1,136.
Newburyport has 13,852 registered voters, according to city records. The city added 1,200 new registrants and deleted 600 non-active names this fall, municipal leaders said.
The following are voting locations:
Ward 1P, Plum Island boathouse, 300 Northern Blvd.; Ward 1, People’s United Methodist Church, 64 Purchase St.; Ward 2, Brown School, Lime and Milk streets; Wards 3 and 4, Hope Community Church, 11 Hale St.; Wards 5 and 5, Bresnahan School, 333 High St.
For the first time, Amesbury voters will be casting ballots in the cafeteria at Amesbury High School on Highland Avenue instead of at City Hall.
The change was made to better accommodate big crowds of voters like the one expected to come out today.
City Clerk Bonnijo Kitchin said there are 11,217 registered voters and if the turnout is anywhere near the 70 percent recorded during the last presidential election in 2008, poll workers could be looking at a crowd of 8,000 voters or more.
City officials have worked to spread the word about the polling location change over the past several months in order to avoid any election day confusion. Large electronic signs notifying residents have been posted throughout the community, including one in front of City Hall, and mailings have been sent out by the city clerk’s office as well.
Regardless of those efforts, officials expect some people will still show up at City Hall to vote. If that happens, assistant clerks Sharon Dunning and Christine Rees will be there to send voters in the right direction. But there are worries that some of those voters might just say “forget it” and go home rather than make the trip over to the high school.
Those who do turn out at the high school are advised to park in the back near the cafeteria if there are spaces available. There are handicap-accessible entrances in both the front and back of the school as well.
After decades of supervising elections, Town Clerk Wilma McDonald can’t remember one when her office has been busier with people registering to vote, verifying their voter status or casting absentee ballots. Based on what she’s seen so far, her estimation of what today’s turnout will be can be expressed in two words: “Big, big.”
All voting takes place at the Hilton Senior Center on Route 1, next to the Salisbury fire station.
“We have more absentee ballots than we’ve ever had before; we’re at 350 already,” McDonald said yesterday. “And we’re getting calls every two minutes checking on their status.”
As of yesterday, Salisbury had 5,977 on its voter registration list. The vast majority, 3,747, are unenrolled, with 1,438 Democrats, 762 Republicans, four Green Party and 26 Libertarians.
At the last presidential election in 2008, Salisbury had a 71 percent voter turnout, but in the 2004 presidential election it was even higher, at 73 percent.
The hectic pace of the hard-fought campaigns for national and state races has added to the tension in just about every clerk’s office across the state, McDonald added.
“Every city and town clerk wants this to be over,” McDonald said. “We’re all going to be very happy when it’s Wednesday.”
Town Clerk Bonnie Fowler has seen many a busy run-up to a presidential election, but never like this one.
“We’ve received 365 absentee ballots cast already and I expect more,” Fowler said yesterday. “That’s a good response.”
Seabrook voters turned out in high numbers in the neck-and-neck battle for the White House between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000, Fowler said.
“We always have a great turnout in presidential elections, but I think this is going to be the biggest one ever,” Fowler said. “I think we’re going to have lines. But in Seabrook, as a town as a whole, people are always respectful of each other.
As of yesterday, 5,128 were on the voter checklist in Seabrook — 1,443 Democrats, 1,853 Republicans and 1,832 undeclared voters. But with election day voter registration allowed throughout the Granite State, numbers could change by a large margin at the polls today.
The polls are open in Seabrook from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Community/Recreation Center on Route 1, next to Kohl’s.
Proof of residency, age and a picture ID are required to register today at the polls. Due to the new state law, all voters are reminded to bring a picture ID to the polls to expedite the voting procedure due to the new state law.
With heavy turnout and a lot riding on the outcomes for candidates who have spent months locked in tight contests, Galvin said his office had concerns about long lines at the polls and said any effort by campaigns to interfere with privacy rights of voters would “not be tolerated.”
During a press conference at the Statehouse, Galvin said 284,789 voters had requested absentee ballots this election, an increase of about 25,000 from 2008, while the number of active voters had declined by about 40,000 people.
Galvin attributed the changes to less voter registration intensity than in 2008, but greater interest in absentee voting due to publicity in other states about early voting. Massachusetts does not allow early voting, which Galvin described as “absentee voting without the excuses.”
One of Galvin’s main concerns for election day is lines and the potential that voting delays will occur when inactive voters — those who may be registered and eligible but have not voted recently or responded to census surveys — turn out and need to show identification and fill out affidavits attesting to their eligibility. He has advised clerks to form two lines for active and inactive voters, but stressed that everyone who shows up to a polling place before 8 p.m. will be allowed to vote even if voting goes past that hour.
“Because of the intensity of this election, especially the U.S. Senate race here in Massachusetts, and the active interest of the campaign organizations, which has been demonstrated to our citizens very thoroughly over the last few weeks, we are particularly concerned about conduct in the polling places,” Galvin said.
Galvin vowed to “enforce rigorously” the prohibition on campaigning within 150 feet of polling locations, and said poll observers from campaigns and interest groups would be monitored to prevent interference with the voting process.
“We further expect those in the position representing campaigns as observers will just do that — observe. Any effort to interfere with voting will not be tolerated, and those persons will be expelled from the polling place,” Galvin said.
Galvin said that while polls in most communities would be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., a select number of communities would start voting as early as 6 a.m. He said voters could visit www.wheredoivotema.com to find their polling location with directions and a preview of their local ballot, and Galvin’s office will have a toll-free hotline 1-800-462-VOTE to report voting problems today.
Galvin said he was “very confident in the integrity of our voting process,” and does not believe there is “rampant voter fraud” in Massachusetts, but would be on the lookout for irregularities.
While President Barack Obama is expected to win Massachusetts over the state’s former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, the contest between U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren remains tight with both candidates barnstorming the state on the final day before the election.
After multiple polls over the past week of campaigning showing Warren holding a small lead over Brown, a UMass Lowell/Boston Herald poll released Sunday night had Brown ahead of Warren 49 percent to 48 percent among likely voters, but trailing Warren 49 percent to 47 percent among registered voters.
The poll surveyed 956 Massachusetts registered voters, 800 of whom were deemed likely voters, between Oct. 31 and Nov. 3 and had a margin of error of 4.1 percent.
Brown’s bus tour was rolling through the North Shore yesterday morning, hitting Lynn and Beverly before making its way to Lowell, Fitchburg, Framingham and other destinations, while Warren had campaign stops planned in Boston, Fall River, Worcester, Framingham and West Roxbury.
A Suffolk University poll of bellwethers in Massachusetts showed Warren leading Brown 50 percent to 47 percent in Waltham and 53 percent to 45 percent in Gloucester.
According to Suffolk, both communities accurately predicted the outcomes in races for U.S. Senate during the last three presidential election years and were close to the statewide vote.
State House News Service contributed to this report.