More Than Half Of Locals Vote Early Or Send Mail-in Ballots

By: Tim Wood

Early voting in Chatham Monday. TIM WOOD PHOTO

Early in-person voting for the Nov. 3 presidential election ends tomorrow (Friday, Oct. 30) after a two-week period that brought a large percentage of voters to the polls. Election officials expect a busy but manageable election day thanks to the high number of pre-election ballots being cast.

As of Monday, 1,268 people had voted early in Chatham, 20 percent of the town's 6,153 registered voters. The number is likely to rise before the early voting polls close. Town Clerk Julie Smith also mailed out 2,701 ballots as of Monday; together the two numbers add up to more than 60 percent of registered voters.

Harwich Town Clerk Anita Doucette called the early voting “unprecedented.” As of Saturday, nearly 6,300 residents had voted, more than half of those registered. She sent out nearly 7,000 mail-in ballots and 3,000 to 4,000 had already been returned.

“People are very happy with the mail-in ballots and the post office has been great to me,” she said.

In Orleans, in-person and mail-in ballots early this week accounted for about half of all registered voters. More than 800 people voted in person, according to Assistant Town Clerk Kelly Darling, and about 2,800 mail-in ballots had been sent out and were arriving back daily.

In-person voting at the Chatham Community Center ends at 3 p.m. Friday; at the Harwich Town Hall at 4 p.m.; and at the Orleans Town Hall at 4:30 p.m.

Massachusetts first allowed early in-person voting in 2016. In that contest, 29 percent of Chatham voters cast ballots prior to election day, a figure Smith said is likely to be equaled if not exceeded this year.

“A lot of people do appreciate being able to come in, in a quiet setting where it's not crowded, and get their voting done,” Smith said. “People are worried about keeping it safe and getting it over with.”

Local towns aren't alone; across the state, large numbers of people have already voted. During the Cape Cod Reopening Task Force press briefing last Thursday, Senator Julian Cyr said as earlier that week, more than one million Massachusetts voters had cast ballots, and 49 percent of eligible voters had applied for mail ballots or voted early in-person.

Clearly, the race at the top of the ballot between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden is driving most, if not all of the early voting traffic. There are two other state races on the ballot: Incumbent Senator Edward Markey is being challenged by Republican Kevin O'Connor, and Ninth Congressional District Congressman Bill Keating faces Republican Helen Brady and Coach Team American candidate Michael Manley.

Only one local office is being contested. There are four candidates for two seats on the Barnstable County Commission: incumbent Ronald Beaty Jr., a Republican, and challengers Mark Forest and Sheila Lyons, both Democrats, and Abraham Kaspian, of the Independent Unifying Thinking party. Both Cape and Islands Senator Julian Cyr and Fourth Barnstable District Representative Sarah Peake are unopposed.

Officials are urging residents to have a voting plan that keeps them safe, especially as coronavirus numbers begin to creep up. Cyr urged people to make a three-step voting plan. Residents should consider how they will vote – by mail or in person on election day; vote early if possible; and take the same precautions that pertain to all public spaces, wearing masks, social distancing and using hand sanitizer.

On Nov. 3 polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voting in Chatham will be at the community center, in Orleans at the senior center and in Harwich at the community center. Doucette said there will be a limited number of voters allowed in the gymnasium at one time. Voters in precincts one and two must enter from the south side of the building, where the council on aging is located, and voters in precincts three and four must enter from the recreational department side on the north end of the center. Plastic barriers provided by the secretary of state's office will be used to separate voting booths and there will be gloves, masks and hand sanitizer available.

Locally, presidential elections typically have the heaviest turnout of any elections. In 2016, 82 percent of voters cast ballots in Chatham; in Harwich the turnout was 79 percent, and in Orleans 84 percent.

Smith said clerks are allowed to count mail-in and early voting ballots prior to election day, but she hasn't decided if that will be done or if the ballots will be counted on election day.

William F. Galvin and Ed Maroney contributed to this story.