Get out to vote: Officials expect low turnout, but Berkshire voters have choices to make

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With no congressional or statewide races and very few local contests, elections officials across the commonwealth expect low voter turnout for Thursday's Massachusetts primary.

"I think we'll have an 8 to 10 percent turnout, with localized pockets of 15 to 20 percent," said Secretary of State William Galvin in an Eagle interview. "Voters aren't going to come out if there's nothing to decide."

Voters will have some decisions to make in the Berkshires, where there is a three-way race for state Senate and a two-way contest for a House seat — both Democratic primaries — as well as a Governor's Council race in District 8, covering most of Western Massachusetts. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

"The fact candidates are vying for the Senate might mean a decent turnout," said Adams Town Clerk Haley Meczywor.

"I would like to see every single one of our voters come through [on Thursday]," added North Adams City Clerk Marilyn Comeau. "I don't expect to be bust, but you never know."

In the Senate race, Rinaldo Del Gallo, of Lenox, Adam Hinds, of Pittsfield, and Andrea Harrington, of Richmond, are vying to face Lanesborough Republican Christine Canning in November. The winner will succeed state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, who opted against another re-election bid.

The district includes all of Berkshire County and 20 municipalities combined in Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties. Turnout could be stronger in those 52 communities, where 90 percent of voters are enrolled as Democrats or have no party affiliation, making them eligible to vote in the Senate race.

Pittsfield could see voter participation in the 20 percent range as the Democratic nod for 3rd Berkshire District Representative is up for grabs between incumbent Tricia Farley-Bouvier and challenger Michael Bloomberg. The winner will square off against current Ward 4 Pittsfield Councilor Christopher Connell, who is running as an independent.

Local election officials often use the number of absentee ballots as a barometer of voter turnout, a prediction tool that may not be effective this time around, according to Pittsfield City Clerk Jody Phillips.

"It's hard to gauge this one as we have the same amount of absentee ballots as in March, but we'll probably be in the 20s," she said.

The highly charged Massachusetts presidential primary in March saw Berkshire voter turnout range from 35 to 50 percent for most of the 32 cities and towns; figures seen in recent general elections in many local communities.

The state primary is being held on a Thursday, rather than the traditional Tuesday, to avoid the day after Labor Day and still meet federal election laws of having at least 45 days between the two election dates so overseas absentee ballots can be sent in a timely manner, according to state election officials.

Since a primary is party-driven, voters must cast ballots according to their registered party affiliation. Only voters who are registered but unenrolled can choose which primary ballot they want when they go to the polls. The November election is an open process, thus party designation doesn't matter.

However, those with a political designation who don't belong to a recognized party can vote on Thursday.

"This primary, now everyone can vote," said Great Barrington Town Clerk Marie Ryan, "not just the ones of the four [recognized] parties or unenrolled."

Allowing those with political designations to cast ballots is one of several voter reforms that includes the early voting period that will start Oct. 24, 11 business days before the general election, which is on Nov. 8.

Meanwhile, local election officials hope they are wrong about a slow-go at the polls for Thursday's primary.

"It's kind of sad, as we do the same work preparing for the election whether it's 15 percent or 50 percent [turnout]," Meczywor said. "It may feel like a trial run before the general election."

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.


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