The last day to register to vote in Massachusetts was Wednesday, and the deadline saw a flurry of activity in town halls across the Island.
“I’m working fast and furious,” reported Edgartown town clerk Wanda Williams yesterday morning. Ms. Williams said nearly 60 new voters registered in Edgartown on Wednesday. Because she is still entering figures, the town clerk was unable to report the new total number of registered voters in town at press time.
“Everybody and their brother wants to vote in this election,” said Tisbury town clerk Marion Mudge yesterday morning while she waited for two voters to mark their absentee ballots. To date, 2,786 voters are registered in Tisbury, up significantly from 1,971 registered during the 2004 presidential election. At the time of the state primary in September, 2,701 voters were registered. “We’ve been around the 2,700 mark for a while,” Ms. Mudge said.
Absentee ballots arrived in Tisbury Tuesday morning, a bit late this year; the ballots typically arrive earlier in the voting season. The delay prompted a steady stream of concerned telephone calls from voters, the town clerk said.
Since Tuesday, 10 voters completed absentee ballots at the town hall; Ms. Mudge mailed out 150 ballots and will mail more as voter registration forms continue to arrive at her desk. Registration forms postmarked by Oct. 15 will be counted.
Across the Island, town halls kept their lights on until early evening Wednesday to register voters. “We had an overwhelming response,” Oak Bluffs assistant town clerk Laura Johnston said. “We were busier than in years past. Usually when we stayed open until eight for deadline registration, there was nothing,” she said. On Wednesday, more than 50 Oak Bluffs residents registered to vote. There are 3,216 voters registered in the town to date, an increase of nearly 200 voters since the state primary in September. The town had 3,173 registered voters in the 2004 presidential election.
“It’s always nuts these last couple of weeks before the elections,” West Tisbury town clerk Prudy Whiting said from her temporary office in a trailer behind the town hall, which is undergoing renovations. There are 2,255 voters registered in West Tisbury to date. Ms. Whiting said there were 2,179 voters registered for the state primary in September. “Every four years they come out of the woodwork,” she said.
The only town not reporting a frenzy was Aquinnah. “We only had two people register [Wednesday]. It was so slow. Then again, it always is up here,” said town clerk Carolyn Feltz. To date there are 399 registered voters in town. Ms. Feltz has mailed out 67 absentee ballots, which arrived in her office on Tuesday. Requests for the ballots began coming in well before the ballots arrived. “We just had to tell them we can’t send them out until they get here,” she said. Twelve Aquinnah voters have come to town hall to pick up ballots since Tuesday afternoon, and four have voted.
“People have been calling and asking for the [absentee] ballots for weeks,” said Ms. Williams in Edgartown. “Since the day after the primary, people have wanted to vote.” She said already 40 Edgartown voters have cast absentee ballots. “It does seem busier,” Ms. Williams said. “Presidential years are always busy.”
A total of 21 Chilmark residents registered to vote Wednesday, and town clerk Jessica Bradley reported 857 registered voters in town to date. She said 133 voters have requested absentee ballots. On Thursday morning, Bart Thorpe arrived at the town hall before 8:30 a.m. to complete his. “How about our man Obama?” he said as he grabbed his ballot and a pen and headed into a back room.
Voting fever appears to be infecting all ages this year. Yesterday, three Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School students skipped school to attend a Barack Obama rally in Londonderry, N.H. One was student body president Maxwell Nunes. “We wanted to go see Obama before the election, and this was the best chance,” he said, speaking by cell phone from a Granite State apple orchard where the rally took place. Earlier in the month, Mr. Nunes and the student council, with help from the Martha’s Vineyard League of Women Voters, organized a voter registration drive at the high school. Combined with a previous session they hosted in the spring, 92 high school students registered to vote. “Everybody I know who’s 18 is registered to vote at the high school,” Mr. Nunes said. On Thursday, the high school senior woke up at 4:30 a.m. to make the early ferry. In New Hampshire he stood in the rain for a few hours before hearing the presidential candidate address the crowd. And he said it was all worth it. “We got up to shake his hand. We said, ‘Keep fighting for us,’ and he said, ‘We’re doing it for you,’ ” Mr. Nunes reported.
Zoë Benjamin is another Island teen who will cast her ballot Nov. 4. She just made the deadline to register, but not because she was late filling out her form. The Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School student celebrated her 18th birthday Wednesday. “I know Massachusetts is a very liberal state, but I still want to do my part,” she said from the school hallways yesterday. To prepare for her first voting experience, Zoë is reading the voter’s information handbook put out by the state. “I don’t know what I’m going to vote for. I don’t understand the issues, and I want to be informed when I cast my vote,” she said.