Fine election day weather across Martha’s Vineyard and hard-fought local and statewide contests resulted in busy polling places in Dukes County Tuesday.
Late in the evening, after polls had closed, the results were clear. Island voters preferred incumbents. Voters re-elected Governor Deval Patrick and stuck with incumbent Dukes County Sheriff Mike McCormack over his two challengers.
The most closely watched Island contest was the three-way race for Dukes County Sheriff between the incumbent sheriff, Mr. McCormack of West Tisbury, retired Oak Bluffs police officer Warren Gosson of Edgartown and retired State Police officer Neal Maciel of Tisbury.
Yesterday, with all towns reporting, Mr. McCormack had 4,529 votes, Mr. Gosson 417, and Mr. Maciel 3,261 votes.
In the race for Dukes County commissioner, there were three candidates on the ballot and four open seats on the seven-member commission. Incumbent Carlene Gatting of Edgartown was not on the ballot but retained her seat with a write-in campaign.
The election to fill five seats on the Up-Island Regional School District committee also hinged on a write-in because no Chilmark resident was on the ballot. Perry Ambulos of Chilmark received 70 write-in votes.
Island voters were generally in step with voters across a state that leaned heavily to Democratic candidates. But, Island voters parted company with state-wide voters on ballot Question One, a measure to repeal the sales tax on alcohol.
Island voters were in no mood to upset the tax cart. Excepting Edgartown, voters said no to repeal by a vote of 4,452-3,629. Statewide, voters said yes. Its approval removed the 6.25 percent sales tax placed on liquor, beer, and wine last year, a surcharge that store owners said was causing them to lose customers to tax-free New Hampshire.
Tide turned quickly
The first county election results into The Times office came from the small town of Gosnold across Vineyard Sound in the Elizabeth Islands just after 9 pm, Tuesday. Due to problems blamed on a computer, the last election results came by fax from Chilmark shortly after 3 am Wednesday.
Gosnold was an early bright light for Republicans. In the race for governor, Gosnold voters chose Baker and Tisei over Patrick and Murray, by a vote of 34-28. They picked Karyn Polito over Steven Grossman for treasurer, by a vote of 34-33. But any hope those results gave Republican candidates were just as quickly dimmed.
Marion Mudge, Tisbury town clerk, phoned the first Island results to The Times shortly before 10 pm. Ms. Mudge said voter turnout was heavy in Tisbury and likely a record for a midterm election.
Tisbury voters went for a Democratic slate across the board. Although the margins narrowed in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, the results were similar.
The results also provided an early indication of how the sheriff’s race would end. Mr. McCormack received 1,005 Tisbury votes to 875 for Mr. Maciel and 61 for Mr. Gosson.
The race for sheriff pitted a veteran who had not faced a serious challenge in 12 years against two men who sought elected office for the first time. The campaign issues focused on correctional philosophy, the presence of off-Island criminals in the county house of correction, and the size and scope of a new jail/house of correction.
In conversations Wednesday morning, all three candidates said they welcomed the opportunity the campaign provided to discuss the issues with voters.
“I want to thank all of those who supported me and understood my philosophy and what I was all about,” Mike McCormack said. “The voters really made an informed decision, and I think they got it right.”
Asked about the need to campaign for a job he has held since 1998, Mr. McCormack said the common wisdom is that incumbents have an advantage, but he was too busy with the job he was elected to do to devote much time to a campaign against two retired challengers with time to spare.
Mr. McCormack concedes little when asked if he plans to make any changes as a result of the issues his challengers raised during the campaign. For example, he said he cooperates with the school system to do background checks upon request and has sufficient security in place to detect drug abuse among prisoners.
Mr. McCormack plans, as a result of the campaign, to reach out to police union representatives and have a conversation about any of their concerns regarding jail policies and practices. “I will look forward to having that conversation,” he said.
Warren Gosson said he thought he raised issues that had not been in the forefront of discussion regarding the limited scope of background checks for school employees.
A retired Oak Bluffs police officer, Mr. Gosson said he expected to have a tough race. “Knowing that the Island is strongly Democratic, running as an independent was going to be a long shot for anybody,” he said. “But I just hope I got the message out there about school safety.”
Mr. Gosson said many people were unaware of the issues he raised. Overall, he said, he enjoyed the experience of campaigning and meeting people.
On Wednesday morning, Neal Maciel was busy pulling down campaign signs. He sounded ebullient despite his loss.
“I enjoyed every minute of it, Mr. Maciel said by telephone. “I am proud of the way we ran the campaign, and I’m proud of the issues we got out there and the concerns that the public probably did not hear about before this campaign.”
Mr. Maciel attributed his loss to the power of incumbency and the Island’s strong Democratic base.
“It’s a daunting task,” he said. “You are going against a wealth of resources that you don’t have.”
He identified the transfer of off-Island prisoners to the Island and the benefits provided prisoners as the two issues that resonated the most with voters he met.
Mr. Maciel, a former State Police sergeant, said people of all ages and backgrounds joined his effort and he was not at all disheartened. “I was absolutely energized by that support,” he said. “I think we gave them a good run for their money.”
Voter registration up
In the run up to the mid-term elections, the battle for votes included an effort to register new voters. That effort appears to have paid off on Martha’s Vineyard where the electorate increased by 472 voters when compared with the 2008 presidential election.
Two years ago, there were 12,725 registered voters on Martha’s Vineyard. On Tuesday, according to town clerks, there were 13,197 voters.
The largest increase was in Tisbury. The electorate swelled by 239 voters, from 2,781 to 3,020.
The Oak Bluffs voter list jumped from 3,250 to 3,366, an increase of 116 voters.
Increases were more modest in Edgartown (3,177 to 3,227), West Tisbury (2,781 to 3,020) and Chilmark (859 to 878).
Of the six Island towns, only Aquinnah saw a decrease in voters, a drop of five, from 398 to 393.
Politics may not be the only factor responsible for the increase in the electorate. Other factors may be an increase in the number of people calling the Vineyard home, and a change in the Steamship Authority’s discount excursion fare policy that now requires that Islanders be listed on the town clerk’s street list, which may have prompted an increase in registration.
In the 2008 presidential election, the excitement and interest that surrounded the candidacy of Barack Obama generated a big voter turnout. Of the Island’s 12,725 registered voters, 10,504, or 83-percent voted.
Two years later, the midterm elections generated less voter interest. Of the Island’s 13,314 voters, 8,523 or 64-percent voted Tuesday.