Local political observers hope two contested -- and ultimately decisive -- Democratic campaigns will spur a larger-than-usual voter turnout in Berkshire County for today’s state primary election.
In essence, voters will settle the race for 1st Congressional District and Middle Berkshire District register of deeds, as the respective Democratic primary winners will run unopposed in the November general election.
Polls across Massachusetts are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, current Register of Deeds Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. and author/political activist Bill Shein are all contenders for the newly reconfigured 1st Congressional District. U.S. Rep. John Olver currently represents the district that includes all 32 Berkshire County cities and towns. Olver isn’t seeking re-election after a 20-year career on Capitol Hill.
Meanwhile, Patsy Harris, Jody L. Phillips and Scott M. Pignatelli are vying for a six-year term to replace Nuciforo. The Middle Berkshire District registry covers Becket, Dalton, Hinsdale, Lee, Lenox, Otis, Peru, Pittsfield, Richmond, Stockbridge, Tyringham and Washington.
Today’s state primary also features three Democrats and two Republicans seeking their party nominations for the Eighth Councilor District, which includes all of Berkshire County. It is one of eight seats on the Governor’s Council, which approves gubernatorial appointments. The
Historically, primary elections have between 10 and 20 percent voter turnout, according to local and state elections officials. However, they believe the candidates in each of three-way political battles for the newly reconfigured 1st Congressional District and register of deeds have done well in reaching out to voters.
"I do think the two competitive races will push voter turnout beyond the 9.6 percent we had in 2008 [a presidential election year], but not as high as I would like it to be," said Pittsfield City Clerk Linda M. Tyer.
Secretary of Commonwealth William F. Galvin, who oversees state elections, anticipates a statewide voter turnout at about 15 percent, and possibly higher in political hotbeds such as Berkshire County.
"There are a number of contested primaries for Congress and there are contests in various places around the state that will draw voters to the polls," said Galvin in a statement Wednesday.
Voter turnout could hinge on how many registered voters listed as unenrolled -- unaffiliated with a political party -- show up at the polls, according to local elections officials and political observers.
The so-called independent voters make up more than half of the electorate in Berkshire County (52.9 percent) and Middle Berkshire District (50.2 percent). Democrats and unenrolled combined account for nearly 90 percent of the registered voters countywide and in the Middle Berkshire District.
Unenrolled voters can choose which party primary to participate in. Voters registered as Democrats, Republicans or another political party can only vote in that party’s primary.
Despite the highly competitive local Democratic primary, local elections officials say they are worried a Thursday primary could impede voter turnout. Except for 1964 and 1988, Massachusetts has held its primary elections on a Tuesday for the past 50 years, according to state elections officials.
Area city and town clerks say they continue to remind voters to mark Sept. 6 as primary day.
"I was setting up the polling booths [Wednesday] when I had some townspeople ask if I was getting ready for next Tuesday," said Otis Town Clerk Lyn Minery. "I said, ‘No, it’s for [today].’ "
State primary primer ...
* The state primary is today, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in all 351 Massachusetts cities and towns.
* Voters registered in a political party can cast ballots only in that party’s primary.
* Unenrolled voters -- registered voters listed without a political party affiliation -- are eligible to vote in the state primary; however, they must choose which party
primary to participate in after arriving at the polls on election day.
* Absentee ballots must be properly filled out and received before polls close at 8 p.m.
Here are polling places by town in Northern Berkshire County, along with the number of the town or city hall that residents should call with any questions or concerns.
ADAMS: DPW Garage, 92 N. Summer St.; 743-8320.
CHESHIRE: Senior Center, 119 School St.; 743-1690.
CLARKSBURG: Senior Center; 663-8255.
FLORIDA: Town Office, 379 Mohawk Trail; 664-6685.
HANCOCK: Hancock School, Route 43; 738-5225.
LANESBOROUGH: Town Hall, 83 North Main St.; 442-1351.
NEW ASHFORD: Town Hall, 199 Mallory Road; 458-5461
NORTH ADAMS: (662-3015)
Ward 1, 2, 3, 5: St. Elizabeth’s Parish Center, St. Anthony Drive.
Ward 4: Greylock School, Upper Phelps Avenue Entrance
SAVOY: Senior Center, 720 Main Road; 743-3759.
WILLIAMSTOWN: Elementary School, 115 Church St.; 458-9341.