NEWBURYPORT — Greater Newburyport voters lived up to predictions, turning out in record numbers yesterday to decide heavily fought races from the Oval Office to Beacon Hill.
Locally, turnout was as high as 87 percent in Rowley and 80 percent in Newburyport, with activity heaviest in the early morning as people lined up even before the polls had opened, causing traffic backups and logjams in parking lots.
In Salisbury, the line to vote when the polls opened stretched several yards to the Department of Public Works garage on Lafayette Road. Traffic picked up again in the early evening as commuters rushed to the polls after work.
“It was fabulous,” Town Clerk Wilma McDonald said yesterday afternoon.
There were no problems keeping up with the steady flow of people however, thanks to a steady flow of volunteers and plenty of ballots. “We were well stocked,” McDonald said.
Exit polling in Newburyport and Salisbury showed an overwhelming majority supporting Democratic candidates.
“How could I vote for Romney? He’s an absolute disgrace,” former Amesbury High School principal and Salisbury resident Les Murray said.
Murray and others said public education was a major reason why they voted the way they did. One voter said she was worried what would happen to the system should Republicans win both the White House and the Massachusetts Statehouse.
Susan Hern of Newburyport said her ballot went to Obama and other Democrats.
“(Obama) holds the same views as I do, and in terms of international relations, he has improved our country’s standing in Europe,” said Hern, who added that she worked in John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. I am really hoping Obama wins.”
Peter Flynn of Newburyport put his support behind challenger Elizabeth Warren for U.S. Senate and incumbent John Tierney for the U.S. House of Representatives.
“I think Warren is the best candidate and that is not taking anything away from (incumbent Sen.) Scott Brown,” he said. “(For Congress) I’ve known Tierney for a long time, and don’t think he should be denied because of his wife’s family.”
Mary Ann Lawler of Newburyport said she voted primarily for Democratic candidates, except that she opted for Brown, a Republican.
“I think Brown has done a pretty good job,” she said. “It would have been nice if Tierney had been more honest about his situation, but I think he’s been an effective congressman.”
Beth Murray-O’Connell of Salisbury said she voted for Obama because she wasn’t willing to risk having another president like George W. Bush in the Oval Office.
“I just can’t go Republican,” Murray-O’Connell said.
In Newburyport, City Hall was busy throughout the day, as those in the city clerk’s office responded to concerns from residents who weren’t registered or those newcomers who did not know where to vote.
“We’ve had voters come in because they weren’t listed as registered,” Assistant City Tricia Barker said. “Some who haven’t voted in four years, or haven’t ever voted here, needed attention.
“We’ve tried to assist everyone who has come to the office.”
Around the city, scores of residents held signs for candidates, working in shifts that lasted several hours.
Mary Harbaugh held a sign in front of the Bresnahan School for City Councilor Kathleen O’Connor Ives, who won the state Senate seat. She said this election was one of the few times when she has worked for a local candidate.
“I knew Kathleen before she was a city councilor,” said Harbaugh, who has served on municipal commissions here. “I’ve watched her on the council, and really believe she could do a good job at the state level.
“I feel good about holding a sign today, except my feet are freezing.”
Richard Mades, who was holding signs for Republican congressional candidates Richard Tisei and Scott Brown at Bresnahan School, said, “I don’t know that holding signs will result in votes, but I feel the conservative candidates should be represented.
“There has been a lot of traffic here (along High Street) and the signs remind people of (all) the candidates in the race.”
Jeff Esche stood on a corner near the Brown School for several hours holding a sign for newly elected state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives.
“I haven’t done much work for other candidates but I think O’Connor Ives can do a good job of representing us,” Esche said. “I am involved with the tree program here, and she was always thorough and responsive when it came to an ordinance we created and with our activities. She has the potential to be effective at the state level.”
Despite the high interest in yesterday’s election, it was uncharacteristically quiet in the Newburyport City Council Chambers when City Clerk Richard Jones delivered the city’s vote tallies last night.
Many local political leaders opted to await returns with Ives at her victory party in Bradford, leaving Jones with a small audience.
Reflecting on the day, Jones said the 2012 vote went off as well as he could have hoped.
“I thought all in all it was a very good day,” he said.
Jones said there were problems with machines throughout the day, starting with a snafu reported first thing yesterday morning at the Plum Island polling station. But unlike the primary election, the issues were easily fixed and caused only minor delays.
“At the end of the primary day, we had a machine blow,” Jones said. “We didn’t have that issue this time. They were all fixed in a few minutes.”
Jones noted one difference in this year’s voting process: there were a number of GOP observers at each of the polling locations,
“We got a lot of observers,” Jones said. “It was unusual to see people just watching.”
Other than that, the lines at the polls rivaled those of the 2008 election, perhaps edged higher due to greater higher number of registered voters in this election.
Mayor Donna Holaday, who popped into council chambers briefly before heading up to Haverhill to join O’Connor Ives, was impressed with the turnout.
“I guess I forgot how deep the lines were at the polls four years ago,” Holaday said. “At the Brown School, the line was all the way down the hall and snaking up the stairs. I’m thrilled.”
In Merrimac, the public library was a lively place on election night, as a steady stream of mostly smiling voters made their way to the polls.
By 7 p.m., more than 3,000 voters, some 70 percent of Merrimac’s 4,083 registered voters, had already cast their ballots.
“This is the greatest voter turnout for Merrimac in 25 years,” Town Clerk Pat True said. Absentee ballots also set a town record, with 262 of the 290 that were mailed out ultimately returned, processed and entered.
In the presidential battleground state of New Hampshire, voters in Seabrook were out early in what many believed would be a landmark election.
“I’ve been town clerk for 35 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Seabrook Town Clerk Bonnie Fowler said. “When I unlocked the doors (to the polls) at 7 o’clock, the line of voters stretched right outside (the Community Center). That’s never happened before. It took until 8:45 (a.m.) just to clear the line.”
Town Moderator Paul Kelley said in the first half-hour the polls were open, 150 people cast ballots, more then he’s ever seen.
Selectman Aboul Khan, himself an unopposed candidate for a seat in the state House of Representatives, was holding his political sign right outside the Community Center as the line grew. At one point just before the doors opened, he said voters stretched through the parking lot reaching right out to its entrance on Route 1.
The choice in the neck-and-neck battle between Democratic Presidential Barack Obama and his Republican Challenger Mitt Romney wasn’t the only reason Seabrook voters were out in force. Tight races were the norm for just about every office available.
“I think this is going to be a historic election,” resident Fran Eaton said, drawing agreement from Sandy Beaudoin.
Even the supervisors of the checklist were busy with those who wanted to register to vote at the polls yesterday. According to Gary Fowler, he estimated about 100 new voters had signed up to cast their ballots by 9:30 a.m.
The first year of the state’s new voter identification law did not appear to pose a problem. All those who were registering to vote brought picture IDs with them, as well as proof of residency and age. And voters also knew to bring a photo ID, according to Carrie Fowler. Those who forgot were not turned away. Affidavits of residency were available for signing.