PROVINCETOWN — The Outer Cape likes to vote. Turnout in the 2016 presidential election ranged from 81 percent in Provincetown to a staggering 87 percent in Eastham. This year, early in-person and mail-in voting may help push the Outer Cape’s numbers even higher.
With another week of early voting still to go, all four towns had already surpassed 2016’s early vote totals.
As of Monday, more than 2,610 mail-in ballots had been returned in Eastham, representing 57 percent of all registered voters there, according to Town Clerk Cindy Nicholson. That’s more than 70 percent of 2016’s total turnout. Another 541 people voted early in person in the first week of early voting. Together, that means 85 percent of 2016’s total voter turnout in Eastham had already voted eight days before Election Day.
Eastham leads the pack in voting — but in each of the other three towns, votes received as of Monday, Oct. 26, were well ahead of 2016’s early vote, and were more than half of 2016’s total vote. Those are high numbers, considering that there were five more days of early voting, 11 more days of mail-in ballots arriving, and Election Day itself still to come.
These numbers mean the Outer Cape votes at rates similar to the most organized and politically engaged counties in the country — places like Dane County, Wisc., where campaigns spend millions of dollars, and turnout was 82 percent in 2016.
Most of the Outer Cape votes have come in through the mail rather than at early voting sites. In 2016, early voting was new, and mail-in voting was barely used. Only Truro and Wellfleet reported their absentee vote totals in 2016, and they were only about 10 percent of all ballots cast.
This year, the pandemic and the need to remain socially distant brought a nationwide move toward mail-in voting. Massachusetts sent vote-by-mail applications to every registered voter in the state in July, and again in September.
Mail-in ballots can be postmarked as late as Election Day and still be counted, as long as they arrive by Friday, Nov. 6. As Election Day approaches, however, officials are telling voters to consider hand-delivering mail-in ballots to an official town drop box, or to an early voting site. Hand-delivering ballots in the days before Election Day means a postal slowdown can’t interfere with your vote.
Voters who mailed their ballots can check to see that they have been received and accepted at TrackMyBallotMA.com. Mail-in ballots can sometimes be rejected, either because the signature on the outer envelope doesn’t match the one in the voter file, or because the inner “secrecy envelope” that separates the voter’s name from the secret ballot choices is missing.
If your ballot has been rejected, you will either be mailed a new ballot, or if it’s too close to election day, you may need to go vote in person instead. Check your ballot status online and contact your town clerk if your ballot has been rejected.
If the presidential election is close nationwide, then rejected ballots and signature matching could become the next national trauma. Voting by mail tends to increase turnout wherever it exists, but it also has a higher rejection rate than in-person voting. Litigation over signature matching is already underway in Pennsylvania and other states.
Not just the Outer Cape but the whole nation appears to be on track for record-breaking turnout this year. According to a Pew Research survey, voter engagement is the highest it has been in at least 20 years. Many are hoping that record-breaking turnout produces a clear and obvious winner as well.