A number of polarizing issues in the national spotlight, expanded use of mail-in ballots and early voting have all played a role in increasing voter participation in the 2022 midterm elections, and officials in southwestern Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut said they are expecting an increase over the turnout during the previous midterms four years ago.

Westerly officials reported steady activity at each of the seven polling locations throughout the day with 4,253 ballots cast live on Election Day through mid-afternoon. Krista Tracy, who serves as registrar and clerk of the Boards of Canvassers in Westerly, said that as of 3:30 p.m., there had been 811 votes cast live in District 3605 at Westerly Middle School, the highest at any location, while the fewest votes cast were in District 3601 in Bradford with 310 total votes.

In all, a brand new data tracker offered through the Rhode Island Secretary of State showed that Westerly had already achieved a 40.3% turnout as of 4 p.m. and was likely to surpass both state and local totals for the 2018 midterm turnout by the time the last votes are cast at 8 p.m.

It has been no different in more rural communities either, with Hopkinton reporting a 41.5% turnout, Richmond reporting a 42.8% turnout and Charlestown having a 50.7% turnout by late afternoon.

“There are a number of differences, including far more ways to vote, but I would say that when you compare what is happening at the polls to past years, we’ve had a very strong turnout and I would expect to find at the end of the day it will have easily surpassed 2018,” said Richmond Town Clerk Erin Leise.

Rhode Island had a 48% turnout rate for the 2018 election. The 2020 presidential election drew approximately 66.8% of the state’s voters, although officials said presidential elections usually attract more participation than midterm elections do.

Data from the Rhode Island Secretary of State showed that for some communities, early voting was a bigger hit than others. In Charlestown, there were 324 mail-in ballots sent to the state while an additional 1,412 had exercised their right to vote early. The numbers represented nearly 50% of all votes that had been cast as of late afternoon.

Early voting had continued in all southeastern Rhode Island communities until 4 p.m. Monday.

In Westerly, there was a strong mix of participants with the majority still voting live. By 4 p.m., staff with the Rhode Island Secretary of State reported that 4,253 people had cast ballots live versus the 1,148 mail-in ballots and 2,206 early votes already calculated.

State data showed that as of late afternoon, 1,519 had voted live in Richmond with 292 mail-in ballots and 957 early voters, a 42.8% turnout, and 1,784 Hopkinton voters had cast ballots live with 221 mail-in ballots sent and 788 early votes cast, a 41.5% turnout.

Smooth in Stonington … mostly

During early morning voting, there was a fender bender incident that occurred in the St. Michael’s parking lot in Pawcatuck as voters adjusted to voting at the newest polling location as a result of redistricting. It was a sign of the local participation in the election, as turnout appeared to be steady at all polling places.

For a town that is dealing with its first election following a state redistricting, one which divided the community into two representative districts, the injury-free accident being one of the more noteworthy events of the day is an encouraging sign, officials said.

“We did a lot of work to get the word out and the voters have responded,” said Elissa Bass, the Democratic registrar of voters in Stonington. “We had done two mailings to help people in these new districts learn how to vote.”

As part of the redistricting plan, the winner of the 43rd House District race will now represent Pawcatuck, North Stonington and Ledyard while the 41st District representative will take over for retiring Democrat Joe de la Cruz and will represent Stonington Borough and Mystic upon election. Republican incumbent Greg Howard, who is seeking reelection in the 43rd District, previously represented all of Stonington. 

The community had already received 1,500 mail-in votes as of midday, officials said, and were expecting the number of voters who participated to continue to rise right up until 8 p.m.

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