State and Local Elections Draw Large Turnout of Vineyard Voters

Gazette Senior Writer

In a characteristic display of Island independence, voters on Martha's Vineyard turned out in large numbers this week to throw strong support to Shannon O'Brien for governor, reject an outside initiative to change the way their Steamship Authority governor is appointed and elect a solid slate of conservation-minded Islanders to the Martha's Vineyard Commission.

In the biennial state election Tuesday, five of the six Vineyard towns went for Ms. O'Brien, the state treasurer and Democratic candidate who lost. Only Edgartown cast a majority vote in favor of Republican Mitt Romney, who was elected as the next Massachusetts governor in a decisive statewide victory that left Democrats reeling.

Election day weather was picture-perfect autumn, with sunny skies and falling leaves; polling places across the Island saw steady streams of voters throughout the day, especially in the three down-Island towns.

Like the rest of the state, voter turnout on the Vineyard was high. A total of 7,018 voters cast ballots - about 60 per cent of the 11,606 registered Islanders.

Top honors for turnout went to the town of Chilmark, where 73 per cent of the voters cast ballots. But turnout was impressive in every town: 64 per cent in Tisbury, 55 per cent in Oak Bluffs, 58 per cent in Edgartown, 65 per cent in West Tisbury and 55 per cent in Gay Head.

In the three up-Island towns, where ballots are still counted by hand, town clerks and volunteers did not finish their work until the wee hours of the morning. Down-Island towns now use machines to count ballots.

Local races and a single local ballot initiative attracted much attention this year.

In the highly visible Martha's Vineyard Commission election, voters returned six incumbents to office and elected three new members to the regional land use commission. Nine members of the 21-member commission are elected at large every two years. For the second time in two years, James Athearn of Edgartown and Andrew Woodruff of West Tisbury were the top vote-getters. Also elected to the commission were John Best of Tisbury, Christina Brown of Edgartown, Linda Sibley of West Tisbury, Richard Toole of Oak Bluffs, Deborah Moore and Megan Ottens-Sargent of Aquinnah and Douglas Sederholm of Chilmark. Robert Mone and Paul Adler of of West Tisbury and Ronald Monterosso of Edgartown were not elected.

Vineyard voters said no to a local ballot question that would have changed the way the Island Steamship Authority governor is appointed. Question 4 asked voters to consider changing the appointing authority from the seven-member Dukes County Commission to a committee made up of one selectman from each town and one county commissioner. The question was developed by the city of New Bedford last year in concert with a group of Vineyard selectmen who were unhappy with the 4-3 vote by the county commission to replace boat line governor J.B. Riggs Parker with Kathryn A. Roessel.

In the end, Question 4 was rejected 3,709-2,772. Only Aquinnah voted in favor of the question, by a margin of 11 votes. Every other town rejected the question by decisive margins.

Vineyard voters also chose to return two incumbents and elect two newcomers to the seven-member Dukes County Commission. Six candidates ran for four seats on the commission this year. Leslie Leland of West Tisbury, Robert Sawyer of Tisbury, Nelson Smith of Edgartown and Paul Strauss of Oak Bluffs were all elected over Woodrow Williams of Tisbury and Daniel Flynn of Oak Bluffs. Mr. Flynn dropped out of the race last week, too late to have his name removed from the ballot. Mr. Leland was top vote-getter in the county race with 4,161 votes.

Elected without contest to new terms were county treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders and Register of Probate Elizabeth Herrmann.

In the race for Cape and Islands district attorney the Vineyard also went one way while the Cape went the other. Vineyard voters threw their support to Democrat Kevin Callahan over Republican Michael O'Keefe, although in the end Mr. O'Keefe was elected by a large margin. Compared to Mr. Callahan, Mr. O'Keefe did little in the way of campaigning on the two Islands, and the results were apparent: Nantucket also voted heavily for Mr. Callahan. Perhaps mirroring the Republican trend in the governor's race, Edgartown was the only town that saw a majority vote for Mr. O'Keefe.

Cape and Islands Sen. Robert O'Leary, who won easily over challenger Mark Boardman, did very well on the Vineyard, as did Cape and Islands Rep. Eric T. Turkington, who was unopposed. Mr. Turkington was the top vote-getter overall among local candidates, with 5,589 votes. Vineyard voters also cast ballots in large numbers for U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, who won easily over Republican challenger Luiz Gonzaga.

The Vineyard vote mirrored the rest of the state in most other races, and also on the three state ballot questions. Voters said no to repealing the state income tax; yes to abolishing bilingual education; and no to a nonbinding clean elections question. In the town of Tisbury, a fifth ballot question seeking a Proposition 2 1/2 override for a bond for the town wastewater treatment project was approved.

A handful of Island peace activists spent the day holding signs for Randall Forsberg, an eleventh-hour write-in challenger to Sen. John Kerry. Ms. Forsberg captured 149 votes on the Vineyard.

Election workers in all towns reported the day went without incident, but by early the next morning there were more than a few strained eyes and vocal cords. "I said ‘Thank you for voting' 1,596 times," said Joanne Jernegan, a poll worker in Tisbury.