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Dispatches from Election Day: Berkshire County voters at the polls in divisive 2022

A sign beckoning voters to the polls outside the Hinsdale, Massachusetts police department.
Josh Landes
A sign beckoning voters to the polls outside the Hinsdale, Massachusetts police department.

On Tuesday, WAMC spoke with voters across our listening area about what was on their minds on Election Day. From the WAMC Berkshire Bureau, here's this dispatch from Western Massachusetts.

On a bright and blustery November morning, Jaleixmarie Rosa Soto voted for the first time in her life at Conte Community School in the West Side neighborhood of Pittsfield. She said the conservative-led Supreme Court decision to roll back federal abortion access rights informed her choices in voting booth.

“One of the big pieces is to make sure my rights are being protected, really, and to make sure I know the people who are going to be fighting for me,” Rosa Soto told WAMC.

The 18-year-old was one of 1.2 million commonwealth residents who backed Question 1, which will impose a 4% tax on income over $1 million in Massachusetts. The measure, with overwhelming support from Western Massachusetts communities, passed by a margin of just 100,000.

“I did like that," said the first time voter. "I thought it was really cool that they were trying to set up, like, tax more to the ones that needed to be taxed.”

Rosa Soto was accompanied by her mother.

“This is like her second time voting here because we did move a couple years ago, because we still lived in Puerto Rico, so we weren't able to vote for the sensitive stuff and we're not able to vote for president," she said. "So, it's kind of very exciting to like, be here, like, be able to vote for president in the future instead of just being back there, just like, oh my god, who's going to win.”

Wes Gadson told WAMC that it wasn’t the personalities in the election that guided her vote.

“At the end of the day, it was about, you know, the referendum, the questions, not so much the candidates," she said. "I'm not saying the candidates aren't important, but sometimes we have to realize that the questions are the ones that we need to respond to because they shape our communities and our lives.”

In the comparatively rural Hinsdale, Warren Dews Jr. said anxiety over the fractious, polarized nature of American politics hung over the day.

“To be honest with you, man, my whole thing is just everybody getting along," Dews Jr. told WAMC. "I mean, there's a lot of issues, I don't really want to discuss them. But my thing is just the turmoil and everyone arguing and not getting along. I had dinner with a friend yesterday that probably voted differently than I voted. But the point that I had, that I'm making, is we had dinner yesterday with each other and we got along. We don't agree politically, but we were cool. We're brothers. We do business together. So that's my whole thing, is everybody getting together. I don't care who you vote for. Just vote. And don't hate me because I don't believe in what you believe in.”

WAMC’s reporting in Hinsdale was briefly interrupted by Police Chief Susan Rathbun incorrectly claiming that interviews could not be conducted with voters within 150 feet of the polling station. After WAMC asked her to review state law, Rathbun admitted her error and apologized.

Over in Dalton, WAMC ran into a cadre of passionate Paul Mark supporters.

“He is very dedicated and he loves the job and he loves to work for the people,” said one.

The Democratic State Representative won the open Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin, Hampden State Senate seat in a landslide.

“My name is Janice Mark,” the supporter told WAMC in a thick New England accent.

“And how do you spell Mark?” asked WAMC.

“M-A-R-K,” laughed Mark.

“Now, do you have any relation to the candidate?” asked WAMC.

“I am the candidate’s mother,” she responded.

Also in Dalton was Clemente Sajquiy, a worker for the Yes on 4 campaign. In a state dominated by the Democratic Party, Massachusetts ballot questions often inspire more debate than actual contested races. Question 4 represented an effort to repeal a recently passed law that allows undocumented commonwealth residents to obtain driver’s licenses.

“There's a lot of counter arguments saying that immigrants get access to benefits and stuff like that, and that's not true," Sajquiy told WAMC. "They can't even- People can't even vote, you have to be registered in order to vote, you have to show an ID. They have a record before you go to vote. So that's a big lie. And another issue that the opposition speaks about is about immigrants getting access to benefits and stuff like that. Another big lie, because I'm an immigrant myself, and I've see firsthand all of this, and immigrants are very independent themselves, hardworking, and actually, some of the undocumented immigrants not being able to get access to driver license actually is limiting them from being independent, and being fully independent and driving around and carrying on their business and carrying on with their family and family needs.”

Sajquiy himself is originally from Guatemala.

“Immigrants are innocent people," he said. "A lot of immigrants who come across the border are illiterate. I was illiterate myself, I went to college here. And people are not really looking or they don't even understand what's at stake when they come in undocumented and they're pretty much escaping harsh conditions back home, and a very unjust system too, just what working people are fighting for here. So, you know, there are, in this term, there are innocent people, and really, going against an immigrant is just oppressing the wrong person. They're just, you know, I guess I can say, scapegoating on the innocent here, rather than just looking at the issue for what it is.”

Question 4 ultimately passed in a 53-47 split, with a margin of around 170,000 votes, including widespread support by communities across Berkshire County.

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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