BEVERLY, MA — Beverly City Clerk Lisa Kent admitted she was a little apprehensive as state primary day approached on Tuesday.
Her office had planned and planned, spent extra hours going over all the details she and her staff could — even setting up some of the polling locations themselves in adherence with coronavirus-related social distancing guidelines —in advance of a day of voting unlike any other in city history.
Still, she felt they could only do so much to prepare for something they had never experienced before.
"Leading up to it was nerve-wracking," she told Patch on Thursday, "because it was unknown. It was good to go through it once before the big one."
Based on the turnout Tuesday in Beverly, "the big one" — the presidential general election on Nov. 3 — could be a record-breaker when it comes to voter participation. While that is wonderful for the democratic process, it puts a lot of strain on those who have to make sure all of the ballots are counted.
Kent said the 39.46 percent voter turnout on Tuesday was between four and fives times bigger than a typical state primary. The contested U.S. Senate race between Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy was one reason, but another was the state's allowance of no-excuse mail-in voting for the first time due to the coronavirus health crisis.
Kent said 365 people in town requested traditional absentee ballots, 1,198 voted via early voting and thousands more — 50 percent of all voters — voted with mail-in ballots, many of which were delivered via drop box on Tuesday.
"A lot of the news — the media — put out there things about the post office so people were scared," she said. "The state even put a stamp on the envelope to mail it back — you would think people would be thrilled — but still they wanted to use the drop boxes."
Each time someone was sent to check the box it had more and more envelopes all the way up to the 8 p.m. deadline.
"That was like snow," she said. "It just kept coming and coming."
Despite so many of the ballots coming in at the last minute, Kent said the day was a success — a "couple of glitches aside" — with the votes all being counted in Beverly by 9:30 when many communities in the state did not report results until well after midnight.
"It went very well because we planned out our COVID game plan." she said. "We were so busy the month before ramping up because we knew everything new was going to be so challenging.
"People think the election is just one day for us. But it's not."
She said things went as well as could be expected for those whose chose to vote in-person as well. While some of the older poll workers in Beverly chose to sit this one out due to the virus, most of the longtime workers came back, and were joined by a good amount of newer, younger election workers.
"That's an area where the media helped us because they got the word out that we needed people and we got a lot of new ones who took some of the burden off," Kent said. "We have been checking on some of our older workers since March just to see if they needed anything like groceries picked up at the store. We told them they would still have their spots if they wanted to take this year off.
"But the majority of them worked anyway. I think they were bored from sitting home. They wanted that social interaction."
She said one advantage of having so many new workers is that they did not bristle at some of the coronavirus-related changes to the "way it's always been done."
Kent said one concern for Nov. 3 was the amount of ballots delivered to the drop boxes at the last minute, but that it is up to the Secretary of State's Office if Bill Galvin wants to change any rules about how late to allow ballots to be left in drop boxes and still be time-stamped in time to count.
But, other than some serious running around picking up, time-stamping and running ballots to polling locations leading up to 8 p.m., things went smoothly.
"We have a good team," she said shortly after officially certifying the results. "It's not just me. Everybody in the office contributed in their own way to make it a success.
"But we are all dragging now."
Related Patch Coverage: 2020 U.S. Senate Race: Ed Markey Defeats Joe Kennedy In Primary