Hampshire County voters turn out in big numbers on Election Day

  • Easthampton voters cast ballots in precinct 5 at White Brook Middle School late Tuesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton voters cast ballots in precincts 1, 2 and 5 at White Brook Middle School late Tuesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2018 12:00:18 AM

NORTHAMPTON – Hampshire County saw a voter turnout of 65 percent, exceeding precedents set by earlier midterm elections in many communities. 

Williamsburg saw the county’s highest voter turnout at 78.5 percent, closely followed by Plainfield at 78.4 percent. Amherst had the lowest voter turnout at 50.5 percent, just below Ware at 53 percent. No other communities saw turnout below 65 percent. 

The data does not include numbers from Huntington or Westhampton, which had not reported voter turnout as of Wednesday afternoon.

Easthampton City Clerk Barbara LaBombard said that turnout was “substantially higher” than past midterm elections in Easthampton, which tend to range between 50 to 55 percent turnout. This election, Easthampton saw a turnout of 70.1 percent.

LaBombard said that she believes that the statewide ballot questions and the national political climate contributed to the higher-than-average turnout.

“I just feel like people want their voices heard more than they might have in the past, and I think this shows it,” LaBombard said.

LaBombard added that prior to Election Day, she was not sure what to expect for voter turnout, but began to anticipate a larger than usual showing when turnout reached 42 percent by midday.

Easthampton turnout in presidential elections has hovered between 76 percent and 80 percent between 2008 and 2016, which LaBombard said highlights the success of a 70.1 percent voter turnout in a midterm election.

South Hadley Town Clerk Carlene Hamlin also said that she typically expects 50 to 55 percent voter turnout for a midterm election, which was surpassed by the town’s 68.1 percent turnout during this midterm election. 

The town saw a 59 percent turnout during the 2014 midterm election, demonstrating a nearly 10 percent jump in 2018.

“I’m ecstatic that so many folks have come out for a midterm election,” Hamlin said. “We’ve never had results like this before, and I’m looking forward to building on this type of voter turnout going forward.”

Hamlin said that an increase in civic engagement among young voters may have played a role in the high voter turnout.

“The millennials seem to have reached us,” Hamlin said. “I definitely saw a younger generation coming out to vote.”

In Amherst, civic engagement among young people also appears to be on the rise, according to MASSPIRG campus organizer Sarah Vonck. Vonck said in a statement that “UMass Amherst student-heavy polling locations” saw a 75 percent increase in voter turnout.

Town Clerk Margaret Nartowicz said that this election saw a greater voter turnout from college addresses, which she noted is typical for a state election.

Although Amherst saw lower turnout than other Hampshire County communities, Nartowicz said that she was “extremely pleased” with voter participation, which increased from a 36.9 percent turnout in the 2014 midterm elections.

Nartowicz said that Amherst tends to see lower turnout numbers due to the town having a significant number of inactive voters, which can result from a large student population. If someone registers to vote in town, Amherst is required to keep those voters on their lists for two consecutive general elections if they do not respond to forms such as annual street lists. 

In addition to state election results, Amherst saw an approximately 45 percent turnout for its town elections, which Nartowicz called “exceptional.”

Ballot questions

In addition to deciding on local, state and congressional representatives, all Massachusetts voters also had the option to vote on three ballot measures, while voters in some districts also were presented with two additional non-binding questions.

Question 1 on nurse staffing ratios saw the least number of ballot responses in Hampshire County, with 55,921 votes cast in total. Question 2 saw 58,923 votes cast, while Question 3 saw the highest number of responses, with 60,061 votes cast. 

Northampton voters who spoke with the Gazette on Election Day said that they answered all of the questions on their ballots, although most felt that a considerable amount of research was required to answer Question 1 in particular. 

“In the things I did read about, (Question 1) was the one I was the most on the fence about,” said Eric Giordano at the Northampton Senior Center. “The other (ballot questions) seemed pretty clear, that one not so much.”

At Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, Elliot Caron-Vera said that he felt “somewhat unqualified” to approach the issue, but voted “yes” on Question 1 because he felt that it aligned with his general views on health care.

“I admit that I was unsure, and I encountered in the last few weeks conflicting opinions on what the consequences of what that vote would be,” Caron-Vera said, adding that he researched the options by reading different news articles and expert opinions.

Despite the complicated nature of some questions, some voters said that they supported complex questions, such as Question 1, appearing on the ballots, rather than being left up to representatives. 

“I’d prefer that we have more of a voice,” said Anton Broekman, of Northampton. 

Other voters noted that even with complicated questions, voters have a responsibility to inform themselves on the issues.

“I think we can’t limit things because people don’t care,” said Ginny Lee, who voted in Northampton. 

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.

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