Early voting for the presidential primary election begins on Monday and town clerks around the Island report an increase in voter registration ahead of the closely watched race.
This will be the first time in Massachusetts voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots early and town clerks are hoping it will boost election participation. The Massachusetts primary is March 3, part of Super Tuesday, when more than a dozen states hold their presidential primary elections.
The goal is to try to get as many people as possible out to vote by making it easier for them, said Edgartown town clerk Karen Medeiros. We are hopeful, but it probably wont make a big difference in voter turnout.
The early voting for the presidential primary begins Feb. 24 and continues through Feb. 28 at sites around the Island. There are 15 Democratic candidates, four Republican, 10 Libertarian and four Green-Rainbow on the ballot.
There are 15,194 voters registered on the Island for the primary election, according to town clerks, a 5.6 percent increase from the 14,382 registered voters in the 2016 presidential primary election.
Oak Bluffs town clerk, Laura Johnston. Mark Alan Lovewell
Voter turnout at elections is typically very healthy on the Island; that hasnt changed in many years, said Chilmark town clerk Jennifer Christy. The trend has stayed steady.
The town of Oak Bluffs has the most registered voters at 3,914, standing just above Edgartown which has 3,822. In Tisbury there are 3,497 registered voters and in West Tisbury there are 2,601. Chilmark and Aquinnah have 979 and 381 registered voters, respectively.
Those registered as unenrolled make up the majority of voters for the primary election this year, at 52 per cent. The trend is consistent in each town, with 8,014 total voters registered as unenrolled, 5,766 registered as Democrats and 1,305 registered as Republicans.
Libertarian, Green-Rainbow and other smaller party designations make up the rest of registered voters at just over one per cent.
The deadline to register to vote in the primary election was Feb. 12, and voters can no longer change their party affiliations. However, unenrolled voters will be able to vote for candidates of either party without permanently changing their affiliation. After choosing a party designation to cast a ballot in the primary, voters will return to their designation as an unenrolled voter.
Its just for a moment in time that they have to go one way or another, said West Tisbury town clerk Tara Whiting-Wells. They just want the freedom to choose . . . Im not sure why the numbers are historically more than any other party [on the Island].
Ms. Christy said that the trend of voters registering as unenrolled has been on the rise over the last decade.
Im sure it can be chalked up to quite a lot of factors, she said. Its sort of an Island-wide situation.
Earlier this year the League of Women Voters launched a campaign to register every eligible person on the Island to vote, in honor of the centennial of the historic suffrage movement that granted women the right to vote.
Every election and primary is extremely important, said member Beatrice Phear. We need voters to pay attention.
To kick off early voting on Monday, the towns of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury are unveiling new voting machines to their residents.
The new machines are slightly slower, they have to think a little more than the old machines, said Ms. Whiting-Wells. Some are excited by it and other are terrified. But I think I can speak to the three town clerks when I say, we all like it . . . it has better security and more reliable technology.
Chilmark and Aquinnah will be sticking to their historic, wooden ballot boxes that require a team of longstanding volunteers to count the votes by hand.
We stick with it because, simply, it still works fine, Ms. Christy said. People seem to like that way of slipping their ballot into the box.
Town clerks said that absentee ballots are already beginning to trickle in, with as many as 98 requests in West Tisbury thus far. Voters can cast an absentee ballot until noon the day before the election.
Each election cycle is exciting, Ms. Whiting-Wells said. Ill be interested to see how this one pans out.
Aquinnah Town Hall, 65 State Road, Aquinnah Monday, Feb. 24, noon to 4 p.m.; Tuesday, Feb. 25, noon to 4 p.m.; closed Wednesday; Thursday, Feb. 27, noon to 4 p.m.; Friday Feb. 28, noon to 3 p.m.
Chilmark Town Hall, 401 Middle Road, Chilmark Monday, Feb. 24 through Friday, Feb. 28, 8 a.m. to noon.
Edgartown Town Hall, 70 Main street, Edgartown Monday, Feb. 24 through Friday, Feb. 28, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Oak Bluffs Town Clerks Office, Town Hall, 56 School street, Oak Bluffs Monday, Feb. 24 through Friday, Feb. 28, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tisbury Emergency Services Facility, 215 Spring street, Tisbury Monday, Feb. 24 through Friday, Feb. 28, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
West Tisbury Town Hall, 1059 State Road, West Tisbury Monday, Feb. 24 through Friday, Feb. 28, 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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