Thursday November 8, 2012

Berkshire County, with its 73 percent turnout of registered voters on Election Day, nearly matched its participation performance at the polls four years ago, according to local election officials.

Tuesday's onslaught of ballots cast in the 32 cities and towns was a shade below the 74 percent turnout in the historic 2008 presidential election. That year, Barack Obama became the country's first black president.

On Tuesday, Obama became just the second incumbent Democrat in the White House to win re-election since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944. The other was Bill Clinton in 1996.

Local city and town clerks reported few problems during the 13-hour voting period, given the steady stream of people who flocked to the polls.

"It was constant from start to finish -- it was inspiring to see," said Pittsfield City Clerk Linda M. Tyer.

"I love it when voters come out in droves," said Lee Town Clerk Suzanne Scarpa. "I wish they would do that for every election."

However, some voters were literally out of place, unable to cast ballots in the Berkshires.

Scarpa said a couple, who moved to Lee from Vermont, thought their voter registration had moved with them.

In Great Barrington, Town Clerk Marie Ryan cited how a pair voters were politically blown off course, displaced by Hurricane Sandy.

"We had a couple from New Jersey who were told they could vote anywhere because it was a federal election," said Ryan.

Berkshire County voter turnout ranged from 64 percent in North Adams to 86 percent in Mount Washington. Pittsfield and Adams each at 66 percent were the only other Berkshire communities below the 70th percentile.

The rush to the voting booths fueled by the hotly contested presidential race and political battle for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, local election officials and political observers said.

"The presidential election is always the biggest draw and the element of Elizabeth Warren added excitement on the ballot," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, who won re-election.

Pignatelli was referring to Democrat Warren on Tuesday who beat Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown the Senate seat, the one long held by the late Edward M. Kennedy. The staunch Democrat's death three years ago triggered a special election in January 2010 in which Brown scored a victory over Democrat Martha Coakley to serve out the final two years of Kennedy's six-year term.

Brown's claim on that Democratic stronghold seat was a wake-up call for Democrats who campaigned tirelessly for Warren, according to state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield.

"She needed an incredibly organized and effective campaign to beat a politically adept incumbent in Brown," Downing said.

Meanwhile, Pignatelli almost had his own performance of two years ago at the ballot box on Tuesday to defeat Scott Laugenour for the 4th Berkshire District seat. It was the only state-level legislative race in the Berkshires.

Pignatelli garnered 81 percent of the vote compared to 83 percent in 2010 during his first political battle against Laugenour, the challenger from the Green-Rainbow Party.

Pignatelli said he greatly appreciates the back-to-back ringing endorsements from the 20-town legislative district.

"Running for office is the most humbling experience I've had," said the dean of the Berkshire state legislative delegation. "If we as lawmakers do our job every single day for our constituents, the elections will take care of themselves."

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.