Saturday, 2:15 PM
(George Rizer/Globe Staff)
A line of voters stretched for a hundred yards up Exeter Street outside the Boston Public Library in the Back Bay.
By Andrew Ryan, Donovan Slack, and Maria Cramer, Globe Staff
Waves of eager voters swamped polling places across Massachusetts today as officials grapple with a surge in turnout expected to top three million voters in a landmark presidential election.
With radiant sunshine pushing temperatures to the mid-60s during the day, block-long lines snaked around corners in Davis Square in Somerville, Boston's South End, Pittsfield, and Lawrence, where an election clerk called it a "madhouse." Shorter lines were reported, but business remained brisk during the evening hours.
By 3 p.m., 200,040 people had cast ballots in Boston, about 13,000 more than had voted by that time in the presidential election of 2004. Turnout was highest in Ward 19, Jamaica Plain, where 62.88 percent of registered voters had already been to the polls. The largest number of voters came from Ward 18, which includes Mattapan and Hyde Park, where 20,523 have already cast ballots.
Election clerks also reported "extremely high" turnout in Worcester, Wellesley, Newton, Georgetown, Salem, and other cities and towns.
"This is a historic event no matter how you vote," said Annette Grant, 42, a "Hillary girl" who cast her ballot for Democratic Senator Barack Obama in Roxbury. "You have the chance to pick the first woman for vice president or a biracial candidate for president."
Those historic overtones seemed to be driving early turnout, especially in African-American neighborhoods where voters snapped photographs of each other as they braved long lines. In Davis Square, a line of voters filed past a day-care center where a group of mostly black toddlers waved as they marveled at the crowd.
"Who's going to be the next president?" the toddlers' caretaker asked the children. "You all can be."
A little boy called out, "Happy vote!" again and again.
"This is history, you've got to vote,'' said Jackie Lewis, 45, an Obama supporter who cast a ballot in Boston's Hyde Park neighborhood. "This is a moment I'll never have again in my lifetime. Maybe in my son's lifetime, but not in mine."
The exuberance of voters made it almost easy to forget that this was Massachusetts, one of the most reliably Democratic states in the country. Neither major-party candidate spent any significant time campaigning here because the Bay State has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984, when it went for President Ronald Reagan over former Vice President Walter Mondale.
The most recent poll on Oct. 27-28 gave Obama a 17-percentage point lead over Republican Senator John McCain in a survey of 658 likely Massachusetts voters by Survey USA.
“We’re not a swing state, but people still want to get their voices heard,” said Erin Knepler, 28, as she waited to vote at the James M. Curley School in Jamaica Plain.
A long line of cars wound past the school and drivers stared at the waiting voters. School children chanted from above, “Obama, Obama.” The one young maverick among them wailed, “McCain.”
In Natick, Paul Carew was another of those maverick McCain supporters in Massachusetts. He stood outside the public library holding a placard for Republican state Senator Scott Brown in a blue sea of signs for Obama and Kerry.
"I feel grossly outnumbered," said Carew, 56, a former Marine who served in Vietnam. "Obama hasn't got the experience in my opinion. We need someone with real strong experience."
In North Andover, stay-at-home mom Kim Gilboard, 37, went with McCain because of his foreign policy experience.
"I agree with all his views and Sarah Palin's," Gilboard said. "I feel he's the only one that can really back what he says."
That sentiment was not shared outside the Elihu Greenwood Elementary School in Hyde Park, where school children peering out bus windows screamed, "Obama! Obama! Obama!"
“It’s all very exciting," said Jack Cheng, "I teach adult ed in Dorchester and I get choked up talking about” the election because it shows that a “non-white kid” can become president. “For my kids, it represents a huge opportunity.”
In Dorchester at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School, a steady stream of voters trickled in this evening, with some dressed in ties and others in their construction boots.
Election workers said this year's turnout was the largest they could remember.
"This is light," said election volunteer Michael Kozu, 53, of Roslindale, pointing to a line of about 30 people outside the school at about 6 p.m. "We have lines around the building all this morning."
Kozu said this is the largest turnout he has seen in a long time with a particular increase in the number of young voters. "I've been hear five years and this is the heaviest I've ever seen," he said.
One young voter, Estella Stephens, 18, a senior at English High School, said she was voting for Barack Obama because of his health insurance plan.
"It's not because he's black," she said, to the laughter of a few surrounding voters.
Stephens, who was reading Obama's "Dream's for my Father," for her English class says the campaign has focused too much on race.
"They're only focusing on Obama being black. He's half white. If he looks white like Jennifer Lopez, there wouldn't be these kinds of problems."
At the Benjamin Franklin Institute on Berkeley Street in the South End, turnout was high all day. Poll workers told those waiting in the line, which stretched down Berkeley Street onto Tremont Street, that it had been between one and two hours long earlier today. Voters were waiting about 35 minutes to cast their ballots at 6 p.m.
Linda Barr, a 45-year-old resident of Castle Square, said she had come to vote earlier in the day, but long lines made her choose a different time.
"I left and then said 'Oh, I'll come back in a while' and it still wasn't so good," Barr said. "But I just said 'I'll stay this time.'"
Near the front of the line was 62-year-old South End resident Priscilla Sneider. She said she saw one woman who mistakenly waited in line, unaware she was supposed to vote at a different location.
"She wasn't even upset, even though she had just waited 35 minutes," Sneider said.
For 24-year-old Stacey Solomon, today was her first time voting in Boston. She recently moved to Bay Village from Melbourne, Fla.
"It's my first big-city election. I think I only waited about five minutes at home when I voted last time," Solomon said. "I was expecting to wait a while, I didn't think it would be this long, but you gotta do what you gotta do."
Secretary of State William F. Galvin said that 4,220,488 people registered by the Oct. 15 deadline to vote in today's election. That is an increase of 3 percent from the last presidential contest in 2004, when 4,098,634 people registered in Massachusetts.
Democrat John F. Kerry is also on the ballot today, running for his fifth term in the US Senate against Republican Jeff Beatty, an Army veteran and former CIA agent who lives on Cape Cod. It is an uphill battle for Beatty, who was trailing Kerry by 24-percentage points in the Survey USA poll.
All 10 Massachusetts representatives in the US House are also up for reelection, though none faces a significant challenge.
On the state level, one of the most watched races culminated last week, when Senator Dianne Wilkerson ended her write-in campaign in the face of federal bribery charges. Wilkerson was defeated in the Democratic primary by Sonia Chang-Diaz, a former school teacher from Jamaica Plain. At a polling place at Orchard Gardens Community Center, a paper flier that had been taped over Chang-Diaz signs asked: "What happened to innocent until proven guilty?" It urged voters to "write in Dianne Wilkerson."
Massachusetts voters today will also decide ballot questions that propose to abolish the state income tax, decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, and ban dog racing. Polls close tonight at 8 p.m.
The main draw across the state, however, was the top of the ticket.
Democracy was also at work at Plymouth Community Intermediate School, where Jack Haley strode confidently up to the ballot box and with a clear sense of purpose registered his election choices. A common enough sight, unless you consider that Haley, 11, is a sixth-grader.
His vote was tallied for Kids Voting USA, a national nonprofit organization that gets students involved in the nuts and bolts of democracy. In a recent class, Jack's social studies teacher went over how to vote, and handed out ballots for the pupils to study. Any student under 18 could vote. (The results, broken down school by school, as well as a town-wide kids' vote, were expected to be ready Wednesday).
"Some of these kids are so prepared," marveled Alice Heckman, a volunteer for Kids Voting, who took down children's registration information, handed out ballots to children who didn't have them, and explained how to vote. Sometimes she had to explain a bit more to wide-eyed children like Patrick Keep, 3, and his brother Jamie, 6.
"This is what you call a ballot," she told them. "Once you vote, it's your secret."
"I love this job," she said.
Kids who vote in Plymouth get a sticker that declares "I voted!" Students at Plymouth Carver Intermediate School who vote also will get a bonus A+ to go in their gradebooks.
David Filipov, Eric Moskowitz, Linda Bliss, Katheleen Conti, Shirley Leung, Kathleen Burge, Maria Sacchetti, Meghan Irons, Matt Carroll, Marcia Dick, and Erica Noonan of the Globe staff and correspondents Anne Baker, Jillian Jorgensen, Jeannie M. Nuss, and Casey D Ramsdell contributed to this report.