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Polls report high voter turnout, festive spirit

By Lisa Kocian
Globe Staff / November 9, 2008
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Voter turnout Tuesday was robust in area communities, though not record-breaking everywhere, based on preliminary figures available from local officials and the state.

Still, there was plenty of excitement in the air at polling places, as voters saw old friends, cast their first ballot, or just reveled in making history.

"We're a small town," said Bolton's town clerk, Pam Powell. "It was a beautiful day. It was like old home week - people seeing each other, seeing friends they hadn't seen. It felt like an upbeat atmosphere."

Bolton had the highest turnout of registered voters among local communities, at 88 percent, based on unofficial figures released by the state and reported by the Associated Press.

Powell said she had calculated Bolton's turnout at 89 percent. Either way, it was a tad higher than in 2004, when turnout was 87 percent.

Statewide a record was set in raw numbers, as more than 3 million people voted, the highest ever. The percentage turnout statewide was not available by midweek, but Brian McNiff, spokesman for the secretary of state's office, said it would not be a record.

It was a personal record for the Cowern sisters of Ashland, though. They were both voting for the first time - although for opposite candidates.

Amanda and Stephanie Cowern, flanked by their parents, left the polls cheering their shared rite of passage, both visibly excited to have cast their first ballots. But the enthusiasm quickly gave way to sibling rivalry.

Stephanie, an 18-year-old high school senior, voted for Barack Obama, while her older sister, a 20-year-old sophomore at Massachusetts Bay Community College, voted for John McCain.

The sisters gave each other a hard time - good naturedly - about their candidates, but younger sister Stephanie said she knew how to end the conversation: "Palin. Done."

Ashland's turnout rate was 79 percent, according to the preliminary figures, about average for the area, which saw a range from 72 percent in Watertown to Bolton's high.

Hopkinton, Dover, and Sherborn shared second place with a turnout of 87 percent.

"People had difficulty getting into the parking lot of the middle school," said Robert Falcione, founder and editor of a local website, HopNews.com, referring to Hopkinton's lone polling place.

In addition to the presidential race, he said, there was a hard-fought state representative race for the Eighth Middlesex District, in which Democrat Carolyn Dykema defeated Republican Dan Haley. Both candidates live in neighboring Holliston.

Natick's town clerk, Judi Kuhn, said she saw only one particularly long line - at the Kennedy Middle School, where voters stood outside. But people didn't seem to mind the wait.

"They had books with them and their iPods on," said Kuhn. "I saw a lot of parents going and taking their children with them. It was really a wonderful day."

Natick had an unofficial voter turnout of 79 percent, but Kuhn said it was closer to 81 percent. Either way it was lower than in the last two presidential elections, which saw turnouts of 83 percent in 2000 and 87 percent in 2004.

"I was quite anxious," she said. "We've had problems with the tabulator before but that all worked like a charm and it went exactly as it should. It was an exhilarating day to say the least."

Lisa Kocian can be reached at 508-820-4231 or lkocian@globe.com.

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