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Mail-In, Early Voting Expected To Exceed In-Person Turnout In Berkshire County

Four ballots - one pink, one blue, one green, and one purple - are attached to a wall.
Josh Landes
Examples of ballots hang on the wall in the city council chambers of Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

As Massachusetts prepares for in-person voting in Tuesday’s primary, town and city clerks around Berkshire County have already seen unprecedented turnout through mail-in and early balloting.

Between hard-fought Democratic primary campaigns in the 1st congressional district and for U.S. Senate – as well as the COVID-19 pandemic – many Berkshire voters have already made themselves heard. In the town of Adams, more than a fifth of 6,000 registered voters have requested mail-in ballots.

“It’s been overwhelming for mail-in ballots," said Town Clerk Haley Meczywor. "We’ve mailed out probably about 1,300 ballots, a little more than that since they started – the state sent out the postcards. We got a lot of those in, and we were able to get all our ballots out, and they’re still coming back.”

Meczywor says in primaries past, her office has mailed out under 100 absentee ballots. Between the record numbers of mail-in votes and the first early voting in a Massachusetts primary, Meczywor says that makes Tuesday’s in-person voting numbers hard to predict.

“Across the state typically primaries aren’t a higher turnout similar to what’s going to happen in November," she told WAMC. "You certainly get 75%, 80% in November. Typically it’s about 25%, 30% in a primary. So it’ll be interesting. But tomorrow’s supposed to be great weather, so hopefully people will still come out and vote!”

Adams’ experience is matched across the county. In Great Barrington, over 1,600 of 4,000 registered voters requested mail-in ballots. In Lee, over a thousand requests were submitted from its 4,316 registered voters.

“Compared to four years ago, we’ve already exceed the number that voted four years ago," said Michele Benjamin. She's the city clerk of Pittsfield, the county’s largest community, with 29,000 registered voters.

“There was 5,665 in September of 2016," Benjamin told WAMC. "And I would say we’re already at 6,000 received back and counted.”

She’s not expecting a high turnout on primary day itself.

“We will definitely have more absentee and early ballots received prior to going to the polls,” said the clerk.

Though Benjamin expects that the majority of the city’s votes have already been cast, the official results have to wait until polls close Tuesday.

“With the results that are already in, we can’t print the tape until 8 o’clock tomorrow night," she explained. "So basically, I’m going to be inputting almost two elections: an in-house election and an at-polls election.”

That means final tallies could take longer than normal as Benjamin and her team combine the two counts in their city hall office.

“They will have the tape tallies at the precincts, and then once 8 o’clock hits, we will be running our 14 machines here – but that will take a little bit," she said. "But we’ll also have those results posted out in the hall as we normally do, so if anyone’s looking to find the totals, they would have to come here and look.”

For people who do head to the polls Tuesday, Benjamin says to wear a mask and maintain social distancing. Election workers will be wearing masks and seated behind Plexiglas protectors at the check-in and check-out tables in each voting location.

“We will be sterilizing the pens," said Benjamin. "You’re going to pick up a pen at the check-in booth and deliver it back to the check-out booth and then we have some students from Pittsfield High and Taconic that will be with us and they’re going to be helping with the sanitizing and running around and sanitizing down the booths.”

Pittsfield’s election team isn’t worried about long lines Tuesday, and Benjamin expects a quiet day.

“Let’s just get everybody and vote," she said. "Make your voice heard!”

Polls close at 8 p.m.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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