BOSTON — Voters braved cold weather and concerns about civil unrest and the coronavirus on Tuesday, flocking to the polls to pick a president and a U.S. Senator while deciding two ballot questions and a host of local races.
Topping the ballot, Democrat Joe Biden cruised to an easy victory over Republican Donald Trump in deep-blue Massachusetts, which hasn't voted for a Republican president since Ronald Reagan in 1984. The Associated Press called the race shortly after polls closed at 8 p.m.
Meanwhile, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Malden, won another six-year term after fending off a challenge from Republican Kevin O’Connor, a Dover attorney making his first run for elected office.
"I ran on racial justice. I ran on the Green New Deal. I ran on a real response to the coronavirus pandemic and the recession which it has created, and the voters responded,” Markey, 74, said in remarks live-streamed Tuesday night.
Massachusetts voters appeared poised to approve Question 1, which will update the state’s 2013 ‘right to repair’ law by allowing independent repair shops to access “telematics” data on vehicles. With about 55% of precincts counted at 10:30 p.m., the measure was ahead by nearly 900,000 votes, which backers called insurmountable.
"The people have spoken — by a huge margin — in favor of immediately updating right to repair so it applies to today’s high-tech cars and trucks,” Tommy Hickey, director of the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition, said in a statement.
But they appeared to leaning towards rejecting Question 2, which would scrap the state’s winner-take-all election system in favor ranked choice voting, where voters list their preferences for candidates. With about 55% of precincts counted, the measure was failing by 52% to 47%, according to a preliminary AP tally.
Election officials predicted record turnout among the state’s 4.8 million voters, with more than 2.5 million ballots already cast by mail and during early voting ahead of Election Day.
On Tuesday, local clerks reported heavy turnout at town halls, community centers and schools where bundled-up voters formed long lines in the blustery conditions.
"It's going to be one for the record books," said Beverly City Clerk Lisa Kent. "We had lines at polling sites this morning, and there's been a steady stream all day.”
Over the border in New Hampshire, Biden was ahead of Trump with 53% of the vote with about 40% of the precincts counted at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night.
Democrat Hillary Clinton won the Granite State four years earlier with the narrowest of margins — some 2,736 votes over Trump.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. Chris Sununu both won reelection in New Hampshire, while Rep. Annie Kuster led opponent Steve Negron with 53% of the vote, with 40% of precincts reporting.
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas appeared locked in a close race against Republic challenger Matt Mowers in the 1st District.
In Massachusetts, Secretary of State William Galvin predicted overall turnout would exceed 3.6 million, which would be upwards of 300,000 votes more than were cast in the 2016 presidential election.
Of those, more than 1.3 million ballots were expected to be cast in person on Tuesday.
Galvin said a record-setting turnout is driven, in part, by interest in the presidential race as well as changes to laws making it easier to cast a ballot.
An Election Day survey of Massachusetts voters by AP VoteCast found 72% of the state’s voters believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Despite concerns about voter intimidation and civil unrest, there weren't reports of any major issues at the polls as of Tuesday afternoon.
Members of the state chapter of the Election Protection coalition, which organized hundreds of nonpartisan poll monitors, said the biggest issue as of midday was long lines outside polling locations, which were made even longer by social distancing rules aimed at preventing spread of COVID-19.
"We’ve seen lines as long as 175 people, with people waiting north of 40 minutes at peak times," Sophia Hall, a Boston-based civil rights attorney and coalition leader, told reporters during a virtual briefing Tuesday morning. "That’s a concern particularly for elderly voters."
Hall said there were also issues with translation assistance and "improper voter ID requests" by election officials in Lawrence and other Massachusetts cities with large Latino populations. State law allows poll workers to ask voters for ID in certain situations, including if a poll worker has a "reasonable" reason to request it.
Tuesday's election was playing out as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, with COVID-19 infections rising nationally and locally.
To prevent spread of the virus, polling stations required masks and social distancing.
Massachusetts is also one of a number of states that dramatically increased mail-in voting options before the election, and voters clearly embraced the changes. Nearly 60% of ballots cast before Tuesday were by mail, according to Galvin’s office.
But the virus precautions also mean local election clerks will be counting ballots days after the election.
Unlike the Sept. 1 primary, ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 can be received by election officials as late as Nov. 6 and still be counted. Mailed ballots received after Election Day will be counted by local election clerks after Nov. 6. Those votes will be added to Election Day tallies, which could end up deciding any close races.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.