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Deep Pockets Of Red And Blue In Western Mass. On Election Day

In solidly blue Massachusetts, where Joe Biden took more than 65% of the vote in the presidential race, there were still pockets of the deep divisions more apparent in other parts of the country.

Amid the divisions is a newly-formed nonpartisan voter advocacy group who says regardless of outcome in the presidential contest, the election demonstrated the need for communities to create local solutions to help heal a fractured country.

In previous years, problems at the polls have plagued Springfield, the state's third-largest city and one that traditionally votes Democratic. The issues range from polling sites running out of ballots, to confusion around registration rules or caused by language accessibility challenges. Because of this history, state and federal monitors were stationed at several Springfield polling sites Tuesday, along with volunteers from the new group: the Springfield Election Protection Coalition.

The group trained 40 volunteers to work with state and national observers to ensure access to the polls and help monitor the balloting. Coalition leaders say having people at the polls who know the city and its residents helped Springfield citizens trust those helping them vote.

"It's nice that people want to help in Springfield," explained Jeffery Markham, with Men Of Color Health Awareness (MOCHA), one of the groups in the coalition. "A lot of times what happens is people descend on Springfield on Election Day, and you'll get folks from Amherst or Northampton who are concerned citizens — and who care about the vote and what's happening in Springfield — but they're not from here.

"That's no knock to them, but it's important for those of us who live in the city to show that we can support other citizens here," he said.

Although the coalition is still looking into some scattered reports of voter problems, Markham said there were few issues at the Springfield polls Tuesday. Most involved poll workers not knowing that the nonpartisan volunteers were allowed to help voters, he said. Those reports were handled with some help from state election observers. Markham hopes the coalition will become a model for other communities to help those who are marginalized get their voices heard.

"We will work in spite of what is happening politically and regardless of who is in power, because people who are powerless need advocates," Markham said. "The outcome of this election won't change our level of engagement or tenacity but may give us even more focus."

Flying Trump Flags In A Blue State

But deep divisions over the presidential race were on display in some other western Massachusetts communities Tuesday. Unlike areas around Boston where some voters were reluctant to say they were backing President Trump, in some rural towns many voters displayed their support emphatically. Trump signs and banners decorated many front lawns. Trucks decked out with Trump banners repeatedly drove by polling places in Palmer and East Longmeadow.

While often greeted by cheers and honks from fellow supporters of the president, a few people stopped to yell to the trucks "Biden 2020."

Polls were busy throughout the day, with some voters saying they wanted to cast their votes in person because they didn't trust the early balloting.

"After all the stuff about absentee ballots and whatnot, I think the results will be controversial, and we'll just have to wait and see," said Melissa Kirby, a Trump supporter from Brookfield. The small Massachusetts town about 20 miles west of Worcester went for Trump in 2016 with about 53% of the vote.

"Joe Biden has been in government for 40 years, and he hasn't done much so why not keep somebody in there like Trump who has made changes?" she said. "Is Trump the classiest guy in the world? No. But he gets stuff done."

A Family Matter

Yet there were divisions in some of these Trump strongholds — even among families. In nearby North Brookfield, which supported Trump in 2016 and 2020, mother and daughter Rachel and Kathleen Shea came to the polls together — but to vote for different presidential candidates.

"It's funny right? She's my mother and I respect her decision, and she respects mine and knows I support Biden and she supports Trump," Kathleen Shea said. "We don't argue. She knows that I'm from a different generation, and my generation is coming up and saying things aren't the same anymore. We can discuss that and have no problem loving each other as family afterward."

Not all families keep the same rules around politics, of course. Bob Gobi, brother of Democratic state Sen. Anne Gobi, sat outside the polls in North Brookfield in his truck decorated with Trump banners and Gobi signs.

"In the Gobi household, we can't talk politics," Bob Gobi said. "I'm an independent, and I think my sister is doing a good job and she listens to people and doesn't vote all Democrat. That's refreshing. I would like that even if she wasn't my sister."

With 95% of the votes counted, Gobi is several points ahead of the Republican challenger for her seat.


Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misspelled Markham's first name. The post has been updated. We regret the error.

This article was originally published on November 04, 2020.

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Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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