High turnout, high anxiety, high hopes

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  • Poll worker Janna White carries a load of ballots just pulled from a voting machine being emptied by Northampton Precinct 4 Warden Tammy Howard, lower right, after the polls closed at the Senior Center on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Helping Howard with step-by-step instructions for closing the poll is deputy warden Gerriann Butler, right. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ellen Moorhouse of Represent.Us keeps an eye on incoming election results at the democracy reform organization’s headquarters in Florence on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ellen Moorhouse and Ed Brennan of Represent.Us check a whiteboard listing election poll closing times across the nation during an election watch at the democracy reform organization’s headquarters in Florence on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Precinct 4 Warden Tammy Howard, right, checks the tape on a voting machine with deputy warden Gerriann Butler shortly after the polls closed at the Senior Center on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Workers at Represent.Us, clockwise from lower left, Meara Geraty, Stephanie Slyz, Ellen Moorhouse and Ed Brennan, keep tabs on election results at the democracy reform organization’s headquarters in Florence on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Police gather at the MassDOT District 2 headquarters in Northampton on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 11/3/2020 11:39:18 PM

HOLYOKE — As Jonathan Chavez walked out of his polling place at Joseph Metcalf Elementary School on Tuesday, he was nervous. 

Chavez wasn’t nervous about in-person voting during a pandemic; that was “quick” and felt safe, he said. Rather, Chavez, who voted for Joe Biden for president, was stressed about what would come next, after election night.

“Nervous, excited and hopeful,” he elaborated. As for why he voted for Biden, he paused before letting out a sigh: “Just change, man. That’s it.”

Like Chavez, many voters at polls across the Pioneer Valley expressed anxiety about the days ahead. The Associated Press called the state for Biden as soon as polls closed at 8 p.m. Results, however, were still pouring in from across the region and the country as the Gazette went to print Tuesday night.

“I think we can expect to wait,” said Ellen Moorhouse, deputy communications director with the Florence-based nonprofit Represent.Us, which lobbies for anti-corruption legislation. “I think, honestly, with historic turnout, especially in these swing states, we have a duty to be patient.”

Turnout was strong in some communities with high levels of early and mail-in voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Southampton, 4,185 of the town’s 4,786 registered voters cast ballots either by mail, early, or on Election Day — an 87% turnout. Biden received 2,231 votes compared to the 1,811 votes cast in the town for President Donald Trump. In 2016, Hillary Clinton narrowly won Southampton over Trump, with 1,744 to 1,692 votes.

But not every community had high turnout after Election Day results were counted. In Holyoke, 58% of the city’s registered voters cast ballots, handing Biden 68% of the vote, according to unofficial results from City Clerk Brenna Murphy McGee. That’s lower than the 63% turnout Holyoke had in 2016. 

“I thought we would get to 70%,” Murphy McGee said. “Wishful thinking, I guess.”

In Northampton, 61% of the city’s 22,150 registered voters had voted early or by mail-in, according to City Clerk Pamela L. Powers. Results from Election Day voting were still coming in from the polls in the hours after they closed at 8 p.m. 

“It’s probably going to be in the high 80s,” Powers said of the projected voter turnout in the city. 

Biden vs. Trump

In the Pioneer Valley, which leans heavily Democratic, Biden won the support of voters like Olivia Footit, 21, who was voting at South Hadley High School during the frigid afternoon. Footit said it was the first time she had ever cast a ballot.

“It’s been a pretty crazy year. My dad passed away from COVID in April,” she said. “Watching everything the past few months, I realized this was the choice I wanted to make.”

Mike Morrow, of South Hadley, also voted for Biden, saying he was “voting for change.” 

“He is more compassionate, I would say,” Morrow said about Biden. When asked what he doesn’t like about Trump, Morrow said, “The way he treats people, especially women and minorities.”

In Granby, 18-year-olds Faith Bergeron and Douglas Masiuk said that they both voted for Trump, who took the town in 2016.

“My No. 1 thing is that he’s pro-life. I’m a Catholic so that means a lot to me,” Bergeron said. Also, “I like the things he’s done with the economy.”

Mark Dufault, of South Hadley, said he has always considered himself to be a Democrat, but that as he has grown older, he has found himself leaning more and more toward the Republicans.

“I’m not the bleeding-heart liberal I used to be,” said Dufault, who voted for Clinton in 2016. On Tuesday, he voted for a Republican for the first time when he cast his ballot to reelect Trump. He said that the pandemic has changed everything and that he thinks Trump “acted on it as soon as he could with the information he had.”

Dufault was not the only Trump supporter in South Hadley on Tuesday. On the lawn outside of the polling place, Scott Moore waved a red Trump 2020 flag at cars as they passed by.

“He supports a Constitutional America,” Moore said about Trump. “He’s not going to let us become a socialist nation. I think he has a pretty good chance of being reelected … there’s just a lot more enthusiasm around him than around Biden.”

Next to him was Heather Hodnicki, who had a blue Trump flag of her own, as well as an American flag she was waving.

“I voted for Trump and Pence because they have done an amazing job for four years,” Hodnicki said. “They’re pro-American, pro-life, pro-liberty, pro-guns (and) pro-family.”

The pandemic shifted the way people voted in this year’s election with many voters opting for mail-in and early voting options. In Amherst, with only two hours left before polls closed, only a handful of voters trickled in to cast their ballots at three of the precincts set up at the high school gymnasium.

“I just think this is the most important election of my life,” said Emily Urquhart, who as a physician arrived after work to cast her vote for Biden. “I’ve never been so moved to make my voice heard.”

Turnout and tension

Plenty of people still voted in person at the polls Tuesday. Murphy McGee, Holyoke’s city clerk, said that overall operations felt safe and smooth at city polling places. There were lines in the morning, but for the most part things moved quickly, she said.

“We did have one or two little complaints, saying people were close together,” Murphy McGee said. “Obviously, we can’t control every little thing happening out there.”

Lines formed at polling places in some cities and towns around the Valley early in the morning, though voters moved through the process quickly at many precincts. 

“Hi, street and address, please,” Lisa Batura, a poll worker, said, greeting a voter walking through the doors at Leeds Elementary School in Northampton to vote mid-morning on Tuesday. 

Earlier in the day, a line of about 20 people formed before the polls opened at 7 a.m., Batura said. She has been working at the polls for eight to 10 years.

“If there are polls, I work them,” Batura said. And it runs in the family — her father is the Ward 7B clerk, and her mother is the deputy warden. “My family has always been civic minded.” 

Bob Riddle, election warden in 7B, is also a dedicated election worker. He has been working at the 7B polls for decades. The first time, “I remember it was Reagan’s election,” he said. Volunteering at the polls is “part of being a citizen, I guess,” he said, standing outside the polls at Leeds Elementary School.

Election turnout in 7B is typically high, both Batura and Riddle said.

Tensions have been high leading up to the election, with supporters of President Donald Trump clashing with counterprotesters in Northampton and other municipalities in the region.

In Amherst, constables and a police officer were present to oversee each voting site, along with a roving patrol officer in case of any difficulties, though Police Chief Scott Livingstone said he wasn’t anticipating any problems.

In addition, a COVID-19 ambassador was on scene to talk to voters about the need to wear masks and other protocols to stay safe.

During the course of the day at the high school, two voters didn’t wear masks, which prompted the clearing of the gymnasium for all but one election worker to protect the safety of those inside.

Meanwhile, in Northampton, a large presence of state police was seen gathering at a staging area at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation facility on North King Street.

In a statement, Massachusetts State Police Communications Director Dave Procopio declined to give specifics about the trooper presence in Northampton. He said state police have been deployed in all regions of the state, and that the state police’s Fusion Center-Watch Office and Homeland Security Operations Center are monitoring developments through the election and the days beyond.

“We are deploying enhanced staffing prior to Election Day, on Election Day, and on the days that follow to ensure safety and security at the locations for which we have primary jurisdiction, such as the State House and other state properties throughout Massachusetts, as well as to assist local police departments that request our help to protect public safety in their communities should needs arise,” Procopio said.

All seemed quiet on Tuesday evening as the Gazette went to print, with no major incidents heard over police scanners. Ballots postmarked by election day will be counted until Nov. 6. 

Greta Jochem also contributed to this report.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com. Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com. Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com. 

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