Braving the rain

Lucy Weber, a longtime N.H. House member running for re-election, remains cheery despite the rain in front of Walpole Town Hall. Weber said she planned to stay until the polls closed. Weber, a Walpole Democrat, won her seventh term.

This was a no-nonsense election in the Monadnock Region, voters doggedly splashing through puddles to cast their ballots, umbrellas up, eyes forward, minds made up seemingly long ago.

They paid little heed to the perfunctory political sign-holders standing outside in the rain. No minds were being swayed at the last minute on this day, and it was too wet and dreary for neighborly banter. This was business — get into the voting booth, get out.

Major elections are an every-other-year ritual in New Hampshire, when voters restock the House and Senate, and pick a governor and Executive Councilors, all for two-year terms. But everyone knows that wasn’t Tuesday’s primary driver for the unusually large turnout. Poll workers across the region compared it to a presidential election, reporting lines to start the day, intermittent lines throughout the day, lines to end the day.

If these midterms are indeed a referendum on Donald Trump’s first two years in office, voters in the Monadnock Region wanted to be heard. Yet aside from voting a straight ticket — Republican candidates to show support for Trump, Democratic against — even longtime watchers of the process weren’t sure what to make of it and what will become of it.

Westmoreland moderator Bob Moore, 88, thought he had seen it all as a lifelong resident. He’s served the town for decades, including 33 years as a selectman, and on various other boards, including the school committee. He chuckles and says he was first elected “to something” in 1959. But Trump and the stir he has caused in the nation have him baffled.

“I haven’t quite figured it out,” said Moore, standing next to the ballot box. “I think (voters) want a change, but I’m not sure they know quite which way to go. I have never seen anything like (Trump).”

As of mid-afternoon, Westmoreland had signed up 34 new voters and recorded 73 absentee ballots. “That’s a lot for a small town like us,” Moore said. By the end of the day, 66 newcomers had registered.

Others were more certain and vociferous in their opinions, with virtually no gray area when Trump was the subject. Comments were often terse, pro-Trump and anti-Trump, and the tiny sampling during a few afternoon polling stops around the Democratic-leaning Monadnock Region revealed plenty more anti-Trump.

In Chesterfield, the line to get into the town hall snaked to the library next door as the polls opened. Cathryn A. Harvey, who won a seat in a five-way race in Cheshire House District 1, says she could tell residents knew who they were voting for even as she canvassed door-to-door prior to the election. “I think they already knew,” she said. “You could tell.”

Agreed, said Jeff Scott, known for his daily activism on Central Square in Keene that has now stretched well over a decade. “I think everybody’s mind is already made up,” he said as several voters passed by.

Tim Butterworth, a retired teacher and former selectman in town, said he believes the way people get their news has deepened divisions in the country, citing how MSNBC and Fox can report on the same story, yet present vastly different versions.

Keene State College students flooded Wards 1 and 5 in Keene, the city well-prepared for the influx of new voters. At the Monadnock Covenant Church in Ward 5, greeters steered students toward registration tables, where they were guided through the registration process. City officials expected a large turnout of first-time voters and college students even as state laws governing new voters continue to change. They streamlined the process to make it as easy as possible, and having two greeters at the door was the first step.

Several students said they had no problem registering and were prompted to vote because of their dislike of Trump. “He’s given our country a black eye and embarrassed us in so many ways. It’s not who we are,” said one student as others around him nodded.

Appalled by Trump’s behavior in office, greeter Terri O’Rorke recently published a book, “A Presidential Aberration,” that focuses on how he’s damaged lives. “I think he has exhausted the nation. He has,” O’Rorke said. Three Keene State students, all wearing stern faces, then stopped at the entrance, and O’Rorke guided them to the new voters registration table.

In Walpole, House District 1 winner Lucy McVitty Weber sat by herself outside the town hall under an umbrella. Weber was almost oblivious to the deluge soaking the ground around her as she read a murder-mystery — “The Dying Season” — a stack of signs next to her. Weber said she had been in that spot since polls opened and hoped to stick it out until they closed.

“But I’m not promising,” she said with a laugh. “I’m here because I think people are very concerned about the direction of the country, but I think also they’re very concerned about local issues as well.”

Nearby, Mark McGuirk of Walpole was huddled under an umbrella, water rushing over his feet, as he volunteered for incumbent Cheshire County Commissioner Peter Graves, who lost to John G. “Jack” Wozmak. Occasionally, a poll worker would check the parking spots out front — marked with “voters only” signs — to make sure people were complying. Voters continually cycled from their cars for the side-door entrance and back, all but oblivious to the two sign-holders in the drenching rain. They had business to attend to.

Steve Gilbert is a columnist and editor for The Sentinel.