Town clerks expect healthy primary turnout

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Recorder Staff

GREENFIELD — Town clerks in the area expect a healthy dose of voting today, though primaries will likely pale in comparison to the general election later this year.

Greenfield Town Clerk Deborah Tuttle said there are 11,314 registered voters in town and roughly 300 people have applied for absentee ballots, which is about average for a presidential primary. She said her office has had a steady stream of residents calling to ask where to vote, or how to register.

“I expect it to be quite busy,” Tuttle said. “But not as busy as it will be in November.”

Greenfield residents can cast their ballots in the Greenfield High School gymnasium on Barr Avenue.

Orange Town Clerk Nancy Blackmer said there are 4,765 registered voters in her town and roughly 60 people have applied for absentee ballots, most of which have been submitted. Those who have not submitted their absentee ballots until 8 p.m. today to do so.

Blackmer said she has no idea what to expect today, though she guesses turnout will be “decent.” She said elections associated with the presidency always draw more voters than town elections.

Blackmer said 34 percent of registered voters cast ballots in 2008, though that number shrank to 13 percent in 2012, likely because President Barack Obama was running for re-election and the only major contested primary was in the Republican Party.

Deb Bourbeau, town clerk of Montague, said she expects this to be the busiest presidential primary election in her experience.

She said many people have mentioned they registered simply to vote against a candidate they dislike. Bourbeau cites national media coverage and controversial comments from candidates for increased interest.

The town clerk said Montague has 6,076 voters and she estimates there are 150 absentee ballots this year, roughly three times the norm. The town has six voting precincts. Bourbeau said 45.2 percent of registered voters turned out in the presidential primary of 2008, which was followed by 12 percent in 2012.

Massachusetts is one of the 12 states and one territory (American Samoa) holding primaries or caucuses today in a tidal wave of American politics unofficially called Super Tuesday. The buzz is all around Franklin County and there is no shortage of enthusiasm for the Democratic candidates in the Bay State.

Bernie Sanders, a senator from neighboring Vermont and the former mayor of Burlington, appears to be a popular candidate among voters in Franklin County, a traditionally left-leaning area in an already blue state.

When driving throughout western Massachusetts, it isn’t uncommon to see “Feel The Bern” bumper stickers or hear residents talking about the “political revolution” that Sanders promises.

The senator’s campaign has at least twice taken him to UMass Amherst, where he was greeted by large crowds of supporters. Promises of increasing the minimum wage and providing free college education to all seem to appeal to liberal voters in the area. The self-identifying democratic socialist promises to enact change in the country and voters seem to be listening to his message.

A passionate Sanders supporter, Doug Mayo, chairman of the Greenfield Democratic Town Committee, believes in the senator’s message.

“He gives fresh, new ideas and I think he can do something. It’s just refreshing to hear him speak,” Mayo said. “Not since we had Robert Reich running for governor here in Massachusetts have I heard that kind of fresh ideas and some thought behind it and some wisdom behind it, too.”

Mayo said he is confident Sanders will fare well in the Northeast, but worries the senator’s message will be lost in the deep South, where people are less likely to vote for an extreme leftist. The chairman said, however, he would support Hillary Clinton if she got the nomination.

Danielle Letourneau said she is a Clinton supporter because Clinton has spent her career fighting for women and children and for abortion rights.

Letourneau said Bill Clinton was the first president she ever voted for and she marveled at how Hillary transformed the first lady role before moving on to elected office.

“I am excited because I feel like she is the best qualified candidate that I’ve ever been able to vote for. If you look at everything she’s done from the beginning of her career — she’s been secretary of state, she’s been a senator of a huge state (New York) — I just feel like I’ve never been able to vote for anybody so qualified,” Letourneau said.

She was quick to say she wouldn’t vote Republican even if Hillary fails to get the Democratic nomination.

“I’ve got nothing but love for Bernie Sanders. I just think Hillary Clinton is the best choice for me,” Letourneau said.

Billionaire real estate mogul and media darling Donald Trump has surprised many by picking up a head of steam since announcing his candidacy in June 2015. Support for Trump in Franklin County is sparse, but existent. The Recorder identified a handful of supporters but all asked to not be named in the newspaper.

Sunderland resident George Vazquez found himself in the local news for displaying four pro-Trump sign on his front law on Route 116. He told reporters he was nearly forced to remove the sign when police came to his house claiming he had violated town bylaws.

Vazquez said he backs Trump because Trump is a problem-solver and an innovator.

Republican voters will also have the opportunity to vote for candidates Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz or John Kasich and Dr. Ben Carson. Nearly half the Republican candidates have dropped out of the race. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dropped out of the race and recently endorsed Trump. After his popularity plummeted in the polls, Jeb Bush also suspended his campaign. Bush once referred to Trump as “a jerk.”

Polls throughout Franklin County will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. First-time voters in a Massachusetts election must show identification.

Voters can find the correct polling location by visiting wheredoivotema.com/bal/MyElectionInfo.aspx.