Vineyard voters came down decisively on the winning side of history on Tuesday, turning out in record numbers to help elect America’s first black President.

More than 82 per cent of the Island’s registered voters cast ballots, and they went overwhelmingly to the Democratic Presidential ticket of Barack Obama and Joseph Biden.

Voters in Chilmark. — Peter Simon

Islandwide, 75 per cent of voters preferred the Obama team to the Republican team of John McCain and Sarah Palin, although there was a difference in voting patterns among towns.

The geographic extremes of the Vineyard matched its political extremes; in Aquinnah 90 per cent of the vote went to Obama — making it the most solidly Democratic town in Massachusetts, according to a town-by-town breakdown of returns done by The Boston Globe — while in Edgartown Obama scored 69 per cent.

Put another way, there were 11 Democratic votes cast for every Republican one in Aquinnah, and two for every one in Edgartown. The approximate ratios in the other Island towns were Chilmark, five to one, West Tisbury, five to one, Tibury four to one and Oak Bluffs three to one.

The turnout was unprecedented. Countywide, 10,584 voters cast ballots out of 12,845 registered.

Tisbury had the highest rate. At least 2,433 people voted (the figure will not be final until Nov. 14, the deadline for absentee votes), out of a total of 2,781, a turnout of more than 87 per cent. Every town recorded 78 per cent or better.

“The biggest previous turnout was 2,277, for the 2004 Presidential election,” said Tisbury town clerk Marion Mudge.

Clara Marshall
Clara Jackson campaigns for Obama. — Jaxon White

“We had one lady come in who’s going to be 80 in December, and it was the first time she’d voted. She said she never cared enough before,” Ms. Mudge said.

Karen Medeiros in Edgartown also said she believed it was the biggest turnout ever, although she did not have precise figures, and she also attested to an extraordinary mood among voters.

“It seemed such a happy day. We had people coming in with cameras so they would have a record of the event. We’ve never seen that before. We had a lot of new citizens, young people. It was remarkable,” she said.

Up-Island and down, there were similar stories.

Aquinnah town clerk Carolyn Feltz said the turnout — 312 of 398 registered voters in her town’s case, was “the biggest I’ve ever seen.

“And there was just a buzz in the air. People would come in and just say ‘yes!’ They were energized.”

The day was mild and spring-like, with scallopers out on the ponds. Almost all towns reported lines of people waiting when they opened their doors on Tuesday morning, although polling went smoothly and without major delay anywhere.

“There were people waiting at 6:30 a.m.,” said Muriel Bye, the constable in West Tisbury. “This is the biggest thing I’ve seen in the 20 years I’ve worked here,” she said.

Dogs don't get a vote. — Penny Bradfield

Put it down to the temper of the times. A nation in economic crisis, fighting two wars, one of them wildly unpopular. Concern about America’s declining status in the world. An outgoing President with record low approval ratings. The first viable African-American Presidential candidate, the finest orator in a generation. A sharp contrast between the candidates and policies of the two major parties. And, as poll after poll showed, a national hunger for change.

Vineyard voters also cast ballots on an array of state and local races, electing a new state representative, a slate of nine to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and a slate of three to the Dukes County Commission. They followed the rest of the commonwealth in rejecting an initiative to abolish the state income tax, approving a measure to reduce criminal penalties for the possession of marijuana and abolishing greyhound racing in Massachusetts. They also followed the recommendation of the Dukes County Charter Study Commission and voted to reduce terms for county commissioners from four to two years.

But it was clearly the Presidential race which most energized them.

“This election,” said Stan Hart, after casting his vote in Chilmark, “is the most important election of my life.”

Mr. Hart will be 79 next week.

He voted, he said, not only to see a man of color in the Presidency, but a man of extraordinary ability who understood the world and the vital need for America to play again a constructive and cooperative role in it.

Sam Carroll (Democrat) and Bette Carroll (Republican). — Peter Simon

While Senator Obama’s mixed racial background was an important factor among many voters, particularly black voters, many stressed it was not the defining factor.

Natalie Dickerson, president of the Martha’s Vineyard NAACP chapter, was one of them.

“As my mother used to say, it’s not about race, it’s about class,” she said yesterday.

And she said Barack Obama was all class.

“It’s wonderful. And I don’t see it just as being wonderful for African Americans. I think it’s wonderful for us all, that we have a shift in the way we look at each other. It’s about us learning to come together and looking at our similarities, not our differences.

“I believe in my heart we will be able to grow in a more dignified manner and leave our children, and their children, a better world.”

Many Vineyard people played a role in the Obama campaign, and the Obamas, who have visited the Island repeatedly, have strong connections here.

Campaigning in full force. — Jaxon White

One of the early predictions that Barack Obama would be a future President was made on the Vineyard.

It happened in August, 2004, when the now-President-elect was running to become a U.S. Senator for Illinois. He took time out from a vacation to attend a forum, which also featured some of his teachers and mentors from the Harvard Law School, on race relations at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown.

The host of the forum, Henry Louis (Skip) Gates Jr., introduced Mr. Obama as “My candidate for President in the year 2012.”

Professor Gates lives seasonally in Oak Bluffs, as do professors David Wilkins and Charles Ogletree.

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz said this week that the Obama connections to the Island could be even stronger than the Clintons’.

“Clinton had a lot of friends on the Vineyard. But they were not people who necessarily were the most influential in his administration. He did have his national security advisor, Sandy Berger. But I think more people of [political and policy] influence with Obama have Vineyard connections,” he said.

More than 82 per cent of Island voters cast ballots. — Jaxon White

In 2007 Senator Obama took a brief break on the Vineyard during the primary campaign, staying at the home of one of his closest friends and advisors, Valerie Jarrett.

Ms. Jarrett has just been announced as one of three people to head the Obama transition team.

“She is very, very close to Obama, and has been for 25 years,” Mr. Dershowitz said.

While here on that 2007 visit, Mr. Obama held a fundraiser at the home of other close friends, Judy and Ron Davenport, which raised more than $300,000.

Most of the connections are black and centered in Oak Bluffs.

44th president of the United States. — Mark Lovewell

One exception is Greg Craig, who served as Senator Obama’s senior foreign policy advisor during the campaign and is a longtime seasonal resident in Menemsha.

Tuesday’s electoral tide did not just raise the Obama/Biden boat; it also lifted those of other Democrats.

Sen. John Kerry soundly defeated his Republican rival Jeffrey K. Beatty.

But in the race for Cape and Islands state representative, the endorsed Democratic candidate Dan Larkosh failed in his bid to replace Rep. Eric T. Turkington. Mr. Larkosh was beaten by Tim Madden, who ran as an independent, although he will sit as a Democrat.

In other local races, John Alley, Leonard Jason Jr. and Thomas Hallahan were elected to the Dukes County Commission, while all nine candidates on the ballot were elected to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. James Athearn, an elected member of the commission who has been a top vote-getter in the past, failed to file his nomination papers in time to appear on the ballot and ran as a write-in candidate, but he did not receive enough votes to be elected.

Vineyard voters also backed a nonbinding question to support a universal health care system.

And Tisbury voters narrowly supported a ballot question seeking a Proposition 2.5 override to allow the town to begin work on a new emergency services building.

In summary, whether viewed in racial, social or economic terms, the results of the 2008 election on the Island found liberal positions winning out over conservative ones.

And the trump card of the day was surely optimism.