Vineyard voters go to the polls Tuesday to help decide the most watched presidential election in history, with Islanders ready and anxious to join the national electoral fray, as well as deciding an array of unique local races down the ballot.

In an unprecedented show of energy and enthusiasm, nearly half the Island’s registered voters have already cast ballots, lining up early at early voting stations to participate in an historic vote during an equally historic moment.

Early voting ends Friday, Oct. 30. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 3.

“Unlike elections in the past that I voted in, this seems to have a lot more energy to it,” said Jeff Burgoyne, an Edgartown voter, Tuesday.

Kristen Coogan, another Edgartown voter, echoed the sentiment.

“My family is a very political family, but me myself, I tend to kind of be quieter about those things,” she said. “But this year, you just can’t be quiet. The issues are right in your face. I’m excited to vote.”

Voter registration has shot upward since 2016 and mail-in ballots for the first time have become ubiquitous, turning town clerk offices into ad hoc mail sorting centers as they prepare for what could be a record voter turnout.

As of Wednesday, the Island had 16,071 total registered voters, a nearly 200 voter and eight per cent increase over four years ago and a marked rise from the primary elections two months prior. At least 7,319 voters — or 47 per cent — have already cast ballots, with a roughly 60-40 breakdown between early in-person voting and mail-in ballots.

While the pandemic has reshaped the way Islanders approach centuries-old institutions of democracy, including voting, it also appears to have galvanized the Vineyard electorate, driving them to cast ballots even if it means staying away from polls on election day. More than 3,000 Islanders have voted by mail. More than 4,000 have voted early.

Both up-Island and down-Island towns have already exceeded their 2016 early voting numbers, not counting of mail-in ballots. Turnout in the 2016 presidential election was around 77 per cent Islandwide; it is already more than 60 per cent of that. Early voting in 2016 accounted for only about 20 per cent of voter turnout.

On Tuesday afternoon in Oak Bluffs, a wave of about 13 cars pulled into the lot of the polling station at the library over the course of a half hour. Some on work breaks, others coming from home, the voters filed into the building to cast their ballots.

Town clerks said the rapid clip of early voting has served as preparation for election day, and given voters a safe and accessible alternative voting option.

“I think the two weeks of early voting has been very helpful to the voters who are anxious about socially distancing and being safe,” said Oak Bluffs town clerk Colleen Morris. “This process really works for them, they are at ease, they’re voting, they’re telling their friends.”

Ms. Morris said the busiest parts of the day have been mornings and afternoons, with especially high numbers of voters coming towards the end of the day. “It’s four o’clock, and I’m closing the polls, and people are still running to the door wanting to vote,” she said. “It’s very exciting and the voters have been terrific. It’s a very historical process.”

While the national spotlight is focused on the tense and heated presidential election, a race for Tisbury’s elected seats on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and an unusual local ballot question regarding the Dukes County treasurer have also energized voters.

Yard signs pepper the Island, with national political figures flanked by local questions and candidates from the roundabout to Beetlebung Corner.

A 17-member, state chartered regulatory body, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission holds biennial elections

for its nine at-large seats. This year, a three-way race has shaped up among candidates running from Tisbury after an appointed member decided to run for an elected seat, and no candidate decided to run from Chilmark.

The ballot includes nine candidates, but because there must be one, and no more than two, elected members from each Island town, one of the three Tisbury candidates will not be elected. The race pits incumbents Clarence (Trip) Barnes 3rd and Joshua Goldstein against challenger Ben Robinson.

The commission is responsible for reviewing large development projects on the Island, and also serves as an Islandwide regional planning agency. Eight other voting members are appointed by the six Island towns, the

county commission and the governor.

Other candidates on the ballot are as follows: Christina Brown from Edgartown, Jeffrey Agnoli from Edgartown, E. Douglas Sederholm from West Tisbury, Linda Sibley from West Tisbury, Fred Hancock from Oak Bluffs, and Jim Vercruysse from Aquinnah.

There are also three ballot questions facing voters. While two of the questions involve statewide issues — one regarding auto mechanics and the right to repair, another regarding ranked choice voting — a third question will appear only on Dukes County ballots.

Question 3 asks voters to switch the county treasurer position from an elected to an appointed position. The question was submitted via special legislation to the statehouse by four county commissioners who feel that appointing the treasurer will provide greater accountability. But former treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders has come out against the question, mounting a campaign to defeat it and arguing that an elected treasurer allows for greater independence and oversight of county finances.

If approved, the switch would not occur until 2027. Current treasurer Ann Metcalf, who was appointed to her position after Ms. Flanders retired in 2018, is seeking election unopposed.

The election also includes a race for the state’s junior Senate seat between incumbent Democrat Ed Markey and Republican challenger Kevin O’Connor. Both candidates won primaries in September.

Incumbent Democrat Cong. Bill Keating is facing a challenge from Republican challenger Helen Brady.

There are no other contested races on the ballot. Seven county commissioners are running for seven spots. Both Sen. Julian Cyr and state Rep. Dylan Fernandes are running unopposed.

The high-stakes presidential election is a thread running throughout.

And the pandemic has altered even the most time-worn institutions of democracy. This year, voters will not be allowed to crank Aquinnah’s ancient ballot box, which dates to the 19th century and has weathered 34 presidential elections.

“People are very sentimental about putting their ballot directly in and turning the crank to hear the bell ring, so they miss that,” Aquinnah town clerk Gabriella Camillieri said. Ballots, however, are still being cast in the tiny town — and at higher rates than ever. “People are very enthusiastic about voting in this election,” said Ms. Camilleri.

Early voting ends Oct. 30. Polls open on Nov. 3, at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m., with stations in every Island town.

After that, Islanders will wait, on the edges of both history — and their seats.

The Gazette will carry coverage from Island polling stations throughout the day Tuesday online. Results will be posted as they become available. The site is free and open to all readers.