Originally published for the Sun Chronicle on March 3, 2016.
Area election officials credit the compelling presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders for near-record voter turnout for Tuesday’s Massachusetts primary, saying the fresh, sometimes radical, ideas of this year’s candidates stimulated interest in a range of voters seeking change.
“Last night we saw voters come out who haven’t voted in a number of years – or never before,” David Torpey, chairman of the North Attleboro Election Commission, said Wednesday. “People seem more passionate about their ideas.”
Last week, Secretary of State William Galvin predicted a record-breaking number of voters, with turnout possibly exceeding the record 1.8 million in the 2008 presidential primaries.
Officials from Attleboro, North Attleboro and Mansfield also predicted an increase in voter turnout based on a spike in new voters registering on the state’s new online app and a simplified absentee ballot process.
While statewide voter turnout statistics won’t be available until later next week, some area communities said they saw thousands more registered voters and up to a 5 percent increase in voter turnout this week.
Last week, Attleboro reported a total of 27,254 registered voters, the second-highest number in city history and far higher than what’s usual for a presidential primary, officials said.
Around 35 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in Attleboro Tuesday, up 2 percent from the 2008 presidential primary. The city saw an increase of almost 2,000 registered voters, with an additional 1,200 votes cast.
Attleboro Election Commission Chairman Henry Reiley said he thinks the “outsiders” in this year’s presidential primary – self-proclaimed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary and Republican business mogul Donald Trump – both of whom won a majority of Attleboro voters – attracted new voters because of the fresh approach they brought with their campaigns.
“Even though the Attleboro area is considered fairly conservative, I think the fact that (Bernie) is a fresh face attracted a lot of voters,” he said. “Just like Donald Trump said a lot of things that people were thinking, and that brought him to the fore.
“People want change, and (this election) is more interesting from the fact that more radical ideas have been thrown out there and discussed.”
North Attleboro saw a 5 percent increase in voter turnout Tuesday with almost 40 percent of 18,942 registered voters casting a ballot. That compares with 35 percent of 17,960 registered voters in 2008. Town officials said more than 1,000 voters registered and cast ballots for the primary.
Torpey attributed the increase in registrations to the secretary of state’s office, which made registering easier and less time-consuming through an online registration portal. But, he also cited the candidates, themselves.
“The (North Attleboro) election department didn’t do anything differently than in the past, so I’ve got to believe it’s the candidates who stimulated this, which is the way it should be,” he said.
In Mansfield, almost 500 more people voted on Tuesday than in 2008. Around 43 percent of 15,634 registered voters took part in the presidential primary election.
Mansfield Town Clerk Marianne Staples also thinks it was the unorthodox outsider candidates who attracted the voters.
“I think that the candidates have a lot to do with it. I think that people are ready to speak. They want to see some change, and they’re coming out to speak their minds, and this is the way to do it,” Staples said.
Staples also said having voter information readily available on the secretary of state’s website and the simplified registration process played a part in the number of citizens who decided to vote.
“Voters are making themselves more aware and more educated in the electoral process and what’s going on in their government,” she said. “I’m personally very happy that they’re taking advantage of and exercising their right to vote.”