EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 19, 2010

Turnout high in the Valley: 'It's like a presidential election'

By Bill Kirk

Voters continued pouring into the polls this afternoon across the Merrimack Valley, as voters cast their ballots for Martha Coakley or Scott Brown to fill the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by the late Edward M. Kennedy.

In Haverhill, turnout was heavy, said City Clerk Margaret Toomey, averaging up to 25 percent in some precincts early this afternoon.

"It's like a presidential election," she said.

In Methuen, turnout was also strong, running at about 25 percent. Some 7,264 voters had turned out by about 2:30 this afternoon, said City Clerk Christine Touma-Conway.

"It's busier than I thought it would be," she said. By the end of election day today, she expects a turnout of about 30 to 35 percent of the city's 26,000 voters. In 2008, about 50 percent of the city's voters came out in the presidential election.

As of noon today in Andover, 5,777 people had voted in the nine precincts, which is 28 percent of active voters, according to Assistant Town clerk Kathy McKenna.

She expected at least 12,000 voters by the time polls close at 8 p.m., which would represent about 66 percent of the 18,000 registered voters in the town.

"It's a big turnout," she said. "It's been very busy."

Andover High School, one of the main polling places in town, was virtually inaccessible this morning as voters flocked to the polls about the same time students, staff and buses arrived. Parking was at a premium, creating long waits for people entering the school from Shawsheen Road.

In North Andover, assistant town clerk Janet Eaton reported that as of noon about 4,100 people had voted, just over 15 percent of the total of 18,000 voters.

"It's wild at the high school," Eaton said, noting that traffic was backed up on Osgood Street from the high school to the police station.

"We've been getting a lot of calls and complaints about it from people sitting in their cars," she said. Some people have turned around and driven home. One man returned on his bicycle, riding through the snow and ice to cast his ballot.

"If people can wait until after 3 to vote, there won't be any traffic," she said, noting that the school being open until 2:30 or 3 p.m. has limiting parking around the school and created a traffic nightmare for the town.

Even this afternoon, however, traffic continued to be heavy both in Andover and North Andover.

In North Reading, the town clerk's office reported about a 24 percent turnout as of around 2:15 p.m., with heavy voting throughout the day. The town expects to reach about 25 percent voter turnout, possibly higher.

In Lawrence, turnout has been "better than the primary" but "not even close to a presidential election," said Richard Reyes, the senior accounting clerk in the Lawrence Election Division.

Earlier in the day, pollworkers reported that things were slow. Reyes said that after 3 p.m., as people get out of work and school, voting picked up.

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