After a record 3.1 million Massachusetts voters cast ballots in 2008, Secretary of State William Galvin on Monday projected that as many as 3.2 million Massachusetts residents could head to the polls on Tuesday with intense interest in the presidential and U.S. Senate races driving participation.
With heavy turnout and a lot riding on the outcomes for campaigns who have spent months locked in tight contests, Galvin said his office had concerns about long lines at the polls, and said any effort by campaigns to interfere with privacy rights of voters would “not be tolerated.”
Massachusetts voters during the 2008 presidential election set a record in the state for votes cast and marked the highest voting percentage, at 73.5 percent, since the 1996 presidential election year when 75.1 percent of registered voters turned out.
The greatest participation rate in Massachusetts dating back to 1948 is still the 1960 presidential contest won by John F. Kennedy when 2.5 million residents voted, or 91.7 percent, according to Galvin’s office.
Out of a pool of 4.34 million eligible voters this year, Galvin predicted between 3.1 million and 3.2 would vote Tuesday to settle the presidential election and other races, or between 71.4 percent and 73.7 percent of registered voters.
During a press conference at the State House, Galvin said 284,789 voters had requested absentee ballots this election, an increase of about 25,000 from 2008, while the number of active voters had declined by about 40,000 people.
Galvin attributed the changes to less voter registration intensity than in 2008, but greater interest in absentee voting due to publicity in other states about early voting. Massachusetts does not allow early voting, which Galvin described as “absentee voting without the excuses.”
One of Galvin's main concerns for election-day is lines and the potential that voting delays will occur when inactive voters – those who may be registered and eligible but have not voted recently or responded to Census surveys - turn out and need to show identification and fill out affidavits attesting to their eligibility. He has advised clerks to form two lines for active and inactive voters, but stressed that everyone who shows up to a polling place before 8 p.m. will be allowed to vote even if voting goes past that hour.
“Because of the intensity of this election, especially the United States Senate race here in Massachusetts, and the active interest of the campaign organizations which has been demonstrated to our citizens very thoroughly over the last few weeks, we are particularly concerned about conduct in the polling places,” Galvin said.
Galvin vowed to “enforce rigorously” the prohibition on campaigning within 150 feet of polling locations, and said poll observers from campaigns and interest groups would be monitored to prevent interference with the voting process.
“We further expect those in the position representing campaigns as observers will just do that - observe. Any effort to interfere with voting will not be tolerated, and those persons will be expelled from the polling place,” Galvin said.
Galvin said that while polls in most communities would be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., a select number of communities would start voting as early as 6 a.m. He said voters could visit wheredoivotema.com to find their polling location with directions and a preview of their local ballot, and Galvin’s office will have a toll-free hotline 1-800-462-VOTE to report voting problems on Tuesday.
Galvin said he was “very confident in the integrity of our voting process,” and does not believe there is “rampant voter fraud” in Massachusetts, but would be on the lookout for irregularities.
While President Barack Obama is expected to win Massachusetts over the state’s former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, the contest between U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren remains tight with both candidates barnstorming the state on the final day before the election.
After multiple polls over the past week of campaigning showing Warren holding a small lead over Brown, a UMass Lowell/Boston Herald poll released Sunday night had Brown ahead of Warren 49 percent to 48 percent among likely voters, but trailing Warren 49 percent to 47 percent among registered voters.
The poll surveyed 956 Massachusetts registered voters, 800 of which were deemed likely voters, between Oct. 31 and Nov. 3 and had a margin of error of 4.1 percent.
Brown’s bus tour was rolling through the North Shore on Monday morning hitting Lynn and Beverly before making its way to Lowell, Fitchburg, Framingham and other destinations, while Warren had campaign stops planned in Boston, Fall River, Worcester, Framingham and West Roxbury.
A Suffolk University poll of bellwethers in Massachusetts released Tuesday afternoon showed Warren leading Brown 50 percent to 47 percent in Waltham and 53 percent to 45 percent in Gloucester.
According to Suffolk, both communities accurately predicted the outcomes in races for U.S. Senate during the last three presidential election years and were close to the statewide vote.