In what has become a fiercely contested primary battle, Vineyarders rushed to register last week in time to vote in the Massachusetts Democratic and Republican primary elections, scheduled for “Super Duper,” “Tsunami,” or even “Destiny” Tuesday, Feb. 5.
That day will feature the biggest one-day collection of state primaries and caucuses ever held in the United States.
In Edgartown, voting will take place across the street from town hall in the Baylies Room of the Old Whaling Church since the library has temporarily occupied the selectmen’s meeting room.
Other primary locations in Dukes County are Chilmark community hall, Aquinnah town hall meeting room, the public safety building of the new fire station in West Tisbury, Tisbury town hall, Oak Bluffs library, and Gosnold’s town hall, which is on Cuttyhunk.
With the passage of the Jan. 16 deadline, registered Democrats and Republicans can no longer change party for the primaries. However, unenrolled voters, which make up the largest group of voters on the Island, will be able to vote for candidates of either party on primary day without permanently changing their affiliation. As of Jan. 16, the number of registered voters in Dukes County is 12,176. Of these voters, 6,370 are unenrolled and can vote for a candidate in either party, while 4,241 are registered Democrats and 1,487 are Republican. That proportion squares generally with 2006 statewide estimates, though there’s a slightly higher proportion of Unenrolled and Republican voters than in recent state averages.
The Massachusetts primary has been relatively insignificant in recent presidential elections.
This year, however, it will be part of what some observers are calling Destiny Tuesday. On Feb. 5, a total of 22 Democratic state primaries and caucuses will be held, and 21 Republican state primaries and caucuses.
“We now have much more impact on the election process,” said Kelly Marcino, executive director of the League of Women Voters for Massachusetts, a non-partisan group which encourages democratic participation.
“And we are voting in a year which will set the direction for the next four years, and are part of a process which will cost over a billion dollars, so it’s important to vote,” she said.
Wanda Williams, Edgartown’s town clerk, was processing final registration forms late into the evening last Wednesday.
“This is the most interest I’ve seen in a primary and I’ve been here for twenty years,” Ms. Williams said.
In Tisbury, town clerk Joanna Jernegan said that people were “registering like crazy” and that absentee ballots are being steadily cast. “We had eight in today and it’s not even lunchtime,” she said on Tuesday morning.
Ms. Jernegan, who had received 68 absentee ballots so far, expects the number to exceed one hundred. Voters are participating from as far away as France and Uganda.
“It’s a lot for a primary and a good indicator of interest,” she said.
Just three people dropped by the Chilmark town hall with registering in mind last Wednesday, says town clerk Margaret Orlando. “And two were just checking to see they were already registered, which they were” she said. “I guess in Chilmark that constitutes a rush.”
Aquinnah’s town clerk Carolyn Feltz says that, though more than 50 per cent of voters are unenrolled, the town is overwhelmingly Democratic.
“The unenrolleds will end up voting Democrat — that’s the trend,” Ms. Feltz said this week.
Aquinnah has several first-time voters who signed up this month in time for the primaries, including one whose 18th birthday falls on Feb. 4. “People see this is a close thing and think ‘maybe I should say something here,’” she said.
At a state level, voter numbers are still being counted and state elections division officer Brian McNiss hopes to have them soon. “There has been a lot of activity,” he said, of registration trends over the past few weeks, “but we’ll just have to wait and see.”