No surprises on Election Day; 2.53% voter turnout

Jun 25, 2020 by

Published June 25, 2020

By MAUREEN DOHERTY

NORTH READING — Tuesday’s annual town election may go down in local lore as one of the lowest voter turnouts ever as only 290 voters out of an eligible pool of 11,453 cast a ballot.

Obvious contributors to the low turnout were the fact that none of the five seats were contested, the original election date of May 5 had been postponed by seven weeks, and the polls were open for just six hours, or roughly half the duration of a “typical” election. The postponement and shortened hours were both due to the state of emergency declared by Gov. Baker in mid-March and the subsequent lockdown of all but the most essential services in the state for nearly three months due to COVID-19.

Yet, despite the extremely low voter turnout, with just 2.53% of the electorate participating, the fact that it was held at all is a victory in itself. It proved to be a good trial run for election workers on how to hold an election safely during a pandemic. Lessons learned included ensuring voters are able to maintain six feet of social distancing at all times, including while in the voting booths and upon check in and check out, as well as wearing face masks and providing single-use pencils to mark the ballots.

This is good news given that it is unlikely COVID-19 will be eradicated prior to the state primary on Sept. 1 or the state election on Nov. 3 when the nation’s next president will be elected.

In comparison to the 2019 election – when there was an actual contested race to attract potential voters and there wasn’t a viral pandemic to keep them away, 2020 isn’t looking so bad. Last year, voter turnout had been only 4.57% with 502 voters participating out of 10,962 voters.

The results

Town Moderator John J. Murphy was re-elected to his 16th one-year team with 251 votes. There were also 38 blanks cast and one write-in.

Incumbent School Committee Chairman Scott Buckley was re-elected to his second three-year term. He received 266 votes. There were 22 blanks and two write-ins.

For the eighth consecutive time, incumbent Community Planning Commissioner Christopher Hayden was re-elected to a three-year term. To date, he has served 22 years, which includes a one-year unexpired term and seven three-year terms. He received 256 votes. There were 34 blanks but no write-ins.

Finance Committee member Vincenzo Stuto garnered 253 votes in his first bid for elective office as the newest member of the Select Board. There were 33 blanks and four write-ins cast as well. He is the successor to Select Board member Andrew Schultz who chose not to run for a second term.

Veteran Housing Authority member Mary Prenney, the town’s Director of Elder Affairs, was re-elected to another five-year term on the Housing Authority. She received 271 votes. There were 19 blanks but no write-ins.

After press time, the Select Board held a re-organizational meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday night as all eyes now turn to preparations for the next hurdle — the annual Town Meeting on Monday, June 29 at 7 p.m. in the high school gymnasium. (See related story.)

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