Bucking the national trend on the Republican side, but closely mirroring the electoral mood of the country on the Democratic side, voters in Dukes County threw their support to Sen. John McCain and Vice President Al Gore in the presidential primary on Tuesday.
Vineyard Voters Are Fond of Presidential Upstarts
Texas Gov. George W. Bush did not take a single town in the county - which includes Martha's Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands - but former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley did very well here, landing the majority vote on the Democratic ticket in Aquinnah and Chilmark, and trailing by only a few votes in the other five towns.
By Gazette press time yesterday, Mr. Bradley had already announced that he would drop out of the race, and Mr. McCain had announced the suspension of his campaign.
"I think Bradley really is what people think McCain is - a person who makes up his own mind on the issues and not on public opinion polls," said Linda Sibley, a West Tisbury resident, county commissioner and staunch Democrat who voted for Mr. Bradley. Mrs. Sibley also participated in a paid political advertisement in local newspapers supporting him last week.
"I voted for Bill Bradley and I knew it was a lost vote. I'll probably end up voting for Al Gore in November - I sure am not voting for George Bush," said Bridget Tobin, a Chilmark resident who is the Vineyard Haven terminal agent for the Steamship Authority.
"Well, I like McCain. He looks presidential, he's been there, he's done it and it was a pretty easy decision for me," said John Lovewell, an Edgartown resident and water commissioner who is unenrolled but usually votes as a Republican.
"I'm voting for George Bush in November, but I didn't vote in the primary because they said McCain was going to take it here anyway," said Robert Murphy, an Oak Bluffs resident and real estate broker.
A total of 3,482 voters went to the polls in Dukes County on what is known nationally as Super Tuesday because of primary elections and caucuses held in 16 states.
In Massachusetts there is a Republican and a Democratic primary.
On Tuesday the weather on the Island was clear and sunny with a promise of spring. Town clerks across the county reported a healthy turnout, although some said the turnout was not as large as they had expected.
"A decent turnout, yes, but frankly I was expecting a large turnout because of all the hype," said Tisbury town clerk Marion McClure. In Tisbury a total of 841 people voted, or 35 per cent of the 2,427 registered voters. Mrs. McClure said she has seen voter turnout as low as 300 and as high as 1,200 in presidential primaries.
The rest of the towns saw similar turnouts. In Oak Bluffs 882 voters cast ballots, or 29 per cent of those registered. In Edgartown 802 voters cast ballots, also 29 per cent of those registered. In West Tisbury 622 people voted, or 37 per cent of the registered voters. In Aquinnah 69 voters cast ballots, or 23 per cent of the registered voters. And Chilmark had the highest vote count in the county, with 266 people voting, a 37.7 per cent turnout. On Gosnold 36 voters cast ballots.
Across the Island, the average turnout was 32 per cent.
Records from the office of Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin show that the total number of registered voters in Dukes County is up 10 per cent over two years ago.
As of Feb. 16, 2000, the last closing date for voter registration, state counts show that there are 11,189 registered voters in Dukes County, with 3,257 registered Democrats (29.10 per cent), 1,638 registered Republicans (14.63 per cent), 32 Libertarians (.28 per cent) and 6,242 unenrolled voters (55.78 per cent).
In 1997 the Martha's Vineyard Commission data report recorded a total of 10,142 registered voters in Dukes County, with 2,936 registered Democrats, 1,577 registered Republicans and 5,629 unenrolled.
The commission data report is updated every two years.
The voting pattern in Dukes County was similar to the rest of Massachusetts.
Town clerks reported a smooth day at the polls, with the only bumps involving voters who did not fully understand the rules for primary voting in Massachusetts. Voters who are registered with a party may only vote on that party's ticket, while unenrolled voters may re-register with either party on the day of the primary in order to vote on the ticket of their choice. Voters who wish to remain unenrolled must then change their party status again after the primary.
There is an increasing trend toward unenrolled voter status, both in Massachusetts and in Dukes County.
"I stay independent and anytime I vote in a primary, I re-register. I usually vote Republican," said Mr. Lovewell.
But no matter which ticket they voted, on the Island the mood of the voters appeared to be like much of the rest of the country: reform-minded but still largely confined to the more familiar political paths.
"It's a visceral reaction, I think," said Glenn Carpenter, an Edgartown resident who is the executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Chapter of the American Red Cross, when asked about his vote. Mr. Carpenter voted for McCain, although he was at a loss to put a rational explanation on it. "Most of the things he stands for I don't believe in. I'm pro-choice and I'm pro-gun control. But I think the guy has character, even though he's not even a political leader, he's really kind of a political hack. So I guess it's kind of peculiar."
One Vineyard resident who is running for local office took advantage of the state primary this week to do a little campaigning for himself.
David Wessling, an Oak Bluffs resident who is running for the planning board in the town election next month, took the day off from his job as a staff planner at the Martha's Vineyard Commission on Tuesday to stand with his sign at the town polls.
And how did Mr. Wessling vote in the primary?
"I didn't care for the choices," he said. "There is no way I would vote for Gore. I think McCain is a demagogue. I don't think Bush has anything to offer, and I think Bill Bradley is out of synch. That left Lyndon LaRouche, so I decided to skip it."