Polls in Amherst quiet on Election Day, residents and students react to in-person voting

Amherst residents and students shared their experiences after casting their votes

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Saliha Bayrak / Daily Collegian

By Ella Adams and Saliha Bayrak

Amherst residents and students headed to the polls Tuesday to cast their votes in person for the presidential election between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

As tensions rise across the nation amid an immensely contentious race, voters shared feelings of anxiety, though they were met with a relatively calm atmosphere at the polls in Amherst.

Amherst is divided into five districts and 10 precincts, amounting to a total of eight polling stations. As voters visited the sparsely populated polls, there was a general consensus that the in-person voting process in Amherst was smooth and simple.

“It was very easy and accessible, I don’t think there’s anything about that that’s too complicated,” said Colin Denizkurt, a junior political science and legal studies major at the University of Massachusetts, after casting his ballot.

Amherst resident Andrea Redenz also noted the simplicity of in-person voting this year, even despite COVID-19 restrictions. “I think they’re doing a great job making sure everything is clean and safe and easy,” she said.

Redenz said she was surprised at the sheer emptiness of the polling stations.

“I heard from colleagues who voted this morning. They’re from different towns where the lines were wrapped around the buildings, and I was expecting to be waiting and I just walked right in,” she said.

Saliha Bayrak / Daily Collegian

Several people who voted also expected a lengthy wait to cast their vote but were surprised to find few lines when they arrived.

Vana Walker, a junior biology major, said “I was expecting a bunch of lines, too, because that’s what I’ve been seeing — a lot of people waiting in line for like two hours, three hours. It’s just crazy.”

Sophomore Jackson Lieb, in the Isenberg School of Management, currently resides in New Hampshire but is a registered voter in Amherst. As he drove to Amherst to cast his ballot, Lieb noticed the difference in voter turnout in various towns he passed.

“I saw a lot of people in other towns out, but there aren’t too many people here,” said Lieb.

A lack of in-person voting at the town’s polling stations may be attributed to the use of mail-in and early voting which has been used by many due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While some voters simply decided to vote in-person due to personal preference and convenience, others headed to the polls on election day due to worries about the mail-in system.

For Lieb, the decision to head to Amherst was based on his desire to experience the polls on Election Day for the first time.

“I’ve never voted before, and I wanted to vote in-person and experience that,” he said.

Brett Felix, a town resident, said he was worried about the reliability of mail-in voting.

“I just like seeing my vote go into the machine, you know. I just like doing it the day of voting instead of it going through the mail,” he said. “Things get lost in the mail.”

Though experts say fraud is slightly more common for mail-in ballots than in-person voting, the effect is not statistically meaningful for the outcome.

Like Felix, town resident Erica Quadros said she did not trust the mail-in system. Despite registering to vote by mail and filling out the correct paperwork, she received no confirmation that her request had been accepted and no ballot. Upon entering Precinct 5, Quadros was informed she was registered to vote by mail, though she was still able to cast her vote in-person.

“I still came in to vote and I actually was worried that that was going to screw things up,” she said. “We didn’t even get anything sent to us. What if I was unable to come down here today?”

Quadros worried about the results, citing her own experience and news coverage of states  sending ballots to those that are deceased. Experts have said these cases are rare, and a voter’s signature is needed for the ballot to count. Claims of voter fraud from these ballots are unproven.

Saliha Bayrak / Daily Collegian

Similarly, Redenz had concerns about not being present at the polls on Election Day. “I worried a little bit about what might happen if I sent it in, so I wanted to do it in-person,” she said.

Kiera Sixsmith, a junior public health sciences major, faced challenges regarding her voting registration.

“The only thing I had a little difficulty with was changing my voter address, because I did want to vote in Amherst,” she said. “I had to put it through [the system] two times and the second time I got the certification that it went through.”

Sixsmith also said the divide in party lines was a factor in why she wanted to vote in person. She worried that the inability of many states to count their numerous mail-in ballots until the day of the election could skew the final election results.

“Just from what I’ve seen in the media about how much mail-in voting has been slandered by the Republican Party… I figured it might be good to have a blue vote in person if I was available to do it,” Sixsmith said, as she walked out of the polling station.

John Burruto, an Amherst resident, was also inspired to vote in person due to his strong feelings about the mail-in system, claiming it was a system “of which I disapprove of wholeheartedly.”

“I want validation of each and every vote,” said Burruto.

Mailed ballots must be verified to be counted in the election outcome, whether they’re absentee or mail-in. Over the past two decades, more than 250 million ballots have been mailed in, with just 143 criminal convictions for election fraud, according to NPR.

Despite the sparsity at the polls on Election Day, tens of thousands of Amherst residents voted, whether it be through mail-in ballots, early voting or voting in-person. According to Town Clerk Susan Audette, over 16,000 individuals were registered to vote in Amherst this year.Even during a pandemic that continues to sweep the nation, the presidential election had record-breaking levels of participation in early-voting numbers alone. Despite concerns about the voting process, the ease and accessibility of participating in the election was evident at the Amherst polling stations.

Denizkurt’s reason for voting in-person was simple.

“If I can go to the grocery store, I can go vote.”

Ella Adams can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @ella_adams15. Saliha Bayrak can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @salihabayrak_