A steady stream of voters turned out to cast ballots in every Island town from morning to nightfall Tuesday, joining their counterparts around the country in deciding a historic presidential election that has deeply divided the country. As the day neared an end, there were predictions for a possible record turnout.

When the polls opened Tuesday, about 60 per cent of the Island’s registered voters had already cast ballots, shattering previous records, in a year upended by the pandemic.

Lines formed early, slowed to a trickle by mid-day and picked up again late in the day. At nightfall lines formed again as the last voters of the day filed into parking lots and polling places.

Polls are open in every Island town until 8 p.m. Masks and safe social distancing are mandatory.

The weather was blustery and cold, with sun breaking through the clouds by lunchtime. And in a year of so much political turbulence, for the first time in memory a quiet police presence was evident at all the polling stations.

All day voters reflected a mood that was equal parts anxious and excited.

“I’m cautiously excited,” said Monica Dean in Oak Bluffs, just after voting early in the morning. “I’m going to be glued to the TV for the rest of the day.”

Ms. Dean and Cheryl Finley were voting on the Island for the first time, having resettled on Island in early spring because of the pandemic.

Late in the day as darkness fell, Tisbury town clerk Hilary reported that all the mail-in and early voting ballots had been entered into the voting machine by 4:30.

“It was a strained effort, we always had someone next to the machine feeding it,” the town clerk said.

The town emergency services building saw a rush of voters at 5 p.m., with the line reaching nearly the same length as the morning. Gusty winds that had buffeted the Island all day had died down, but voters donned beanie hats and winter gloves to stay warm.

As the parking lot filled up, Tisbury police officer Patrick Souza directed cars in and out.

One truck had a battery die while its owner was inside voting. A fellow voter offered to jump the truck, and soon both were on their way.

As of 6 p.m., 2,724 votes had been counted in Tisbury, including early and mail-in ballots. Town constable Michael Ciancio arrived just before six for what he dubbed the “six to Oh-God shift.”

In Oak Bluffs after a quiet afternoon followed the morning rush, long lines again started to form outside the library around 5 p.m. as the sun set on a historic day in the town.

Denitsa Alton waited beneath the library canopy to vote in her third presidential election. An immigrant from Bulgaria, Ms. Alton first voted in 2012. She felt this one was different.

“There is a lot more at stake, either way,” Ms. Alton said. “Also I think there is a little more excitement.”

Inside the polling station, town clerk Colleen Morris was able to narrowly avoid disaster after her second vote tabulating machine died earlier in the day. She called her friend and West Tisbury town clerk Tara Whiting, who was able to lend Ms. Morris the town’s spare machine. Ms. Morris needed at least two machines to tabulate the deluge of mail-in and early ballots that the town had received over the past four weeks.

“We got the West Tisbury machine here, and it saved the day,” she said.

Ms. Morris picked up her last load of mail-in ballots from the post office at 5 p.m., finding four final ballots that needed tabulating. Another five were in the town’s drop-off bin outside the library. The drop-off bin, as well as the polls, remain open until 8 p.m.

“They just keep coming,” Ms. Morris said.

In Edgartown Dorothy Grant, who said she has voted in every presidential election since 1960, was a motor voter this year, handing her ballot through her car window to constable William Bishop, who duly deposited it in the ballot box inside.

As of 6:55 p.m., 828 votes had been cast. Town clerk Karen Medeiros said voting had been steady all day.

In West Tisbury at 6 p.m. there were six people with their heads bent over ballots, with more voters trickling in the doors.

“There have only been one or two moments all day with no one here,” town clerk Tara Whiting said.

Ms. Whiting was still full of energy, roaming about the apparatus bay at the West Tisbury public safety building, a much larger space than the traditional voting room down the hall.

“We are almost done counting the earlies,” she continued. “About 100 to go.”

Per tradition, Granville White and Lynne Powell White had come at the end of the day.

“We always come after work on election day,” Mr. White said. “And I still have to hit the bell every year.”

He was referring to a small bell situated on a table next to the ballot machine. In the past, the old crank ballot boxes would sound a bell when the ballot finished its rotation. The last ballot box was retired following the 2005 election season, after a life cycle that began in 1942, and Prudy Burt bought the small table bell to keep up the tradition.

The first ballot box started its career in 1892.

“I recently donated them both to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum,” Ms. Whiting said.

She was briefly interrupted by another ring of the bell, this time by Lynne Powell White.

“See, I’m not the only one who has to ring the bell,” Mr. White said.

Early in the day in Chilmark, a steady stream of cars turned into the Community Center parking lot.

Stephen McGhee said he chose not to vote early this year. “I wanted to vote on election day,” Mr. McGhee said. “It’s pretty damn important.”

Voter James Roddy noted the energy of the morning. “I feel nervous. It feels like a big day today,” he said. “In 2016 I think it was equally important but we didn’t know that. Everyone is aware of the stakes this time so this election weighs heavier on people’s minds than those in recent history.”

By mid-morning, the polls were buzzing with activity. Voters waved enthusiastically at one another as they entered the building, heading toward the lighted voting stations to scratch the bubbles on their ballot sheets.

At the back of the room, a poll worker manned the town’s antique voting box, inserting completed ballots into the wooden slot and cranking the large handle until the machine registered the vote with a ding.

In West Tisbury, Cynthia Riggs, 89, said she had voted in every presidential election since President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Even with the pandemic, many Islanders felt it was important to vote in person. And like Ms. Riggs, many enjoyed the shared sense of community and belonging embedded in the centuries-old democratic tradition.

“I like the idea of voting on election day with my neighbors in the fire station,” she said. “It seems neighborly.”

Asked what she is hoping for on election day, Ms. Riggs did not hesitate.

“I would like to see a nation brought back together,” she said.

Bill Eville, Aaron Wilson, Maia Coleman and Louisa Hufstader contributed reporting.

Home page picture by Jeanna Shepard: Oak Bluffs town clerk Colleen Morris monitors voting machines near end of voting day.

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