PROVINCETOWN — Reno, Nevada calls itself the “biggest little city in America.” Well, at least when it comes to elections, the communities of the Outer Cape could be the “biggest little towns on Cape Cod.”
Collectively, the four Outer Cape towns account for less than 7 percent of the population of Cape Cod. Historically, voters here turn out at a higher rate than those who live in the Mid and Upper Cape, but even so, the Outer Cape produced less than 8 percent of the total vote in last week’s countywide elections.
That 8 percent mattered, however. In the closest countywide race, the contest between Democrat Donna Buckley and Republican Tim Whelan for the county sheriff’s office, Buckley would have lost by 685 votes if the election had included only the 11 towns between the Cape Cod Canal and the Orleans rotary.
The four Outer Cape towns added 6,572 votes to Buckley’s total and only 2,288 to Whelan’s. The 4,284-vote margin that Buckley netted from these small towns at the Cape tip effectively erased the advantage Whelan had built up in the much larger jurisdictions of Barnstable, Sandwich, Bourne, Yarmouth, and Dennis — which traditionally favor Republicans.
Sliced another way: 10 times as many people voted in the town of Barnstable than in Provincetown, but because Whelan won only narrowly there, 54 percent to 46 percent, his net gain in Barnstable was only 1,497 votes. Buckley’s 91-percent victory in Provincetown netted her a 1,871-vote cushion, more than neutralizing Whelan’s Barnstable victory.
There were six towns with more than 8,000 voters in last week’s election, and Whelan won five of them. His best performance anywhere, however, was the 56 percent he won in Dennis. Buckley narrowly carried Harwich, Chatham, Brewster, and Mashpee; she won Orleans and Falmouth with 58 percent and carried the Outer Cape towns with vote totals ranging from 60 percent in Eastham to 91 percent in Provincetown. Altogether, she won the countywide election with 52 percent of the vote.
If the vote had been organized under rules similar to those governing the U.S. Electoral College, so that the winner of each town received all its votes, Whelan would have won. Buckley’s large margins in small towns would not have mattered. In the county Assembly of Delegates, for instance, where each town gets one vote weighted by its population, the five towns Whelan carried have 56 percent of the votes.
Former Cape and Islands state Sen. Dan Wolf, a Democrat who also served as honorary chair of Ron Galibois’s successful campaign for Cape & Islands district attorney, said he was heartened by the high turnout across Cape Cod in this election.
“I thought these races would hinge on turnout and how motivated people felt to get out and vote,” Wolf told the Independent. “We had strong turnout across the entire Cape — I think people are really paying attention now.”
Wolf cited the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade as a motivating factor for Democratic voters this year and the presence of gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl, a Donald Trump acolyte, as a potential de-motivator for some more traditional Republican voters.
Wolf said that he expects high turnout to last beyond this election, however.
“It’s not just the abortion issue,” Wolf said. “I think people feel our rationally functioning political system is in jeopardy.
“That’s not just for one election cycle,” Wolf added. “I think people realize that democracy has been very tenuous, and I think permanently, for a lifetime, it’s going to get people more engaged.”
Wolf also said turnout among younger voters was especially encouraging.
The presidential election of 2020 set turnout records across the nation, as members of both parties were extremely motivated to vote. Eighty-two percent of Cape Cod’s registered voters cast ballots that year.
In last week’s election, which did not include a presidential race or a U.S. Senate race, 61 percent of Cape Cod’s voters cast ballots. That means that for every four voters who turned out to vote in the presidential race two years ago, three came out in last week’s election.
Wolf had another observation about this election.
“I think Whelan and Buckley ran really positive campaigns, communicating what they believe, what their vision was, how they would act if elected,” said Wolf. “And I think that was true of the district attorney candidates as well.
“You don’t bring the other person down, you inspire your voters to come out,” Wolf concluded. “I think it’s something that, as a region, we can be really proud of.”