As the coronavirus pandemic, racial justice protests and a historic election drive record early voting turnout across the nation, Berkshire County voters are having their say in droves.
Voters across the county have cast almost 38,000 ballots so far this year, according to data updated Wednesday by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, nearly three times the number of ballots cast during early voting in the previous presidential election. And with two days of early voting left and Election Day still ahead, town and city clerks predicted that total turnout could far surpass 2016 levels.
State records show that 55 percent of the ballots returned in Berkshire County have been mailed in and 45 percent submitted in person. Across Massachusetts, nearly 2 million people have voted.
Berkshire County voters described several and often coinciding motivations for going to the polls early this year, including basic convenience, concern about crowds on Election Day because of the pandemic, and fears over the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service.
The county vote total includes 11,623 ballots cast so far in Pittsfield, according to state data. That’s three times the number of people who voted early in the city during the 2016 presidential election. Six in 10 voters in the city submitted their ballots by mail.
In North Adams, just over 3,000 residents have cast votes so far, compared with fewer than 900 during the early voting period in 2016. City Clerk Deborah Pedercini described a steady flow of voters and mail-in ballots and some difficulty getting enough volunteers to staff the early voting days.
“People just want to get it done this year,” she said. “But, I still feel we’ll have a really good turnout on Election Day. Some people are die-hards, and they want to vote on Election Day.”
Danielle Klebes, a 31-year-old artist in the city who voted early for the first time Wednesday, said she missed voting on Election Day but wanted to avoid potential crowds. She had considered casting her vote for former Vice President Joe Biden by mail, but decided to vote in person, out of skepticism about the Postal Service.
“I just have a general fear that something could go wrong,” she said. “I’ve never missed a vote, and this felt like the most important one.”
In South County on Wednesday, Great Barrington Town Clerk Jennifer Messina described the scene as “a little bit crazy.” So far, 2,320 people in the town have voted, according to state data.
“We’re really busy,” Messina said. “We had way more people coming in than we expected.”
Some Great Barrington voters who had requested mail-in ballots ended up voting in person instead, according to Messina.
“People said they changed their minds and decided to come in person,” she said. “A few said they didn’t trust the mail system.”
Many of those voters, she added, seemed to be unaware that they could drop off their mail-in ballots in a locked box outside Town Hall.
Lenox has the highest voter turnout rate so far in the county, with 56 percent — or just over 2,200 voters — turning in a ballot so far, according to state data.
Berkshire County also has some of the towns with the lowest voter turnout in Massachusetts. State data shows that fewer than 25 percent of voters have returned a ballot so far in New Ashford, Mount Washington and Florida, which all rank among the bottom 10 municipalities in the state for turnout.
As of Wednesday, according to state data, New Ashford is the only municipality in the commonwealth that has yet to see a single vote cast.