BOSTON — More than 1.7 million Massachusetts residents have already voted in the Nov. 3 election, and the majority have done so by mail.
Next Tuesday, Massachusetts voters will pick a president and U.S. senator while deciding two statewide ballot questions and a host of congressional and state races. The contentious race between incumbent Republican President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden is expected to drive a record turnout.
Gloucester voters also will consider a question for a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion to fund a new school to serve the combined student bodies of East Gloucester and Veterans Memorial elementary schools.
Secretary of State Bill Galvin estimates overall turnout will exceed 3.3 million, including about 1 million people who are expected to vote on Election Day.
More than 36% of the state's 4.6 million voters have already cast ballots through the mail or during the early voting period that got underway on Oct. 17, according to Galvin's office. At least 63% of the votes received have been mail ballots.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Newburyport City Clerk Richard Jones, who oversees the city's elections. "We've been emptying our drop box just about every hour for the past week."
Locally, some North of Boston communities are reporting that upwards of 50% of voters have cast ballots by mail or in person.
Suburban voters seem to be taking advantage of pre-election voting more than those living in cities, according to a breakdown from Galvin's office. Locally, Marblehead, Rockport, Manchester, Wenham and Andover have reported some of the highest turnouts, each near or above 50%, according to Galvin's office.
By comparison, Lynn reported about 27% of voters had cast ballots as of Monday. Lawrence had seen the lowest turnout in the region, or about 18%.
Nearly 60 million Americans have voted in the Nov. 3 election so far, surpassing all early ballots cast in the 2016 polls, according to published reports.
In New Hampshire, a battleground state in the presidential election that has also seen a dramatic rise in voting by mail, more than 136,000 ballots had been submitted to local election clerks as of last Tuesday, according to Secretary of State William Gardner's office. The state updates turnout weekly.
Massachusetts is one of a number of states that have substantially increased mail-in voting options to avoid overcrowding at the polls amid concerns about the coronavirus. Before the outbreak, the state only allowed voters to mail "absentee" ballots if they could not vote in person on Election Day, but voters needed an excuse, such as a disability.
State lawmakers who pushed through rules expanding voting by mail during the pandemic say it has given voters more options and boosted overall participation.
"I think we're going to see the largest vote in Massachusetts' history," said Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, a Senate co-chairman of the Legislature's Committee on Election Laws who helped write the new law. "We've given voters so many options to cast a ballot that there's really no excuse not to vote in this election."
While election clerks can accept postmarked ballots up to three days after Nov. 3, Finegold said he still expects the major races to be called on election night.
"There could be a few legislative races that are too close to call," said Finegold, who is running unopposed, "but I think we'll know who the winners and losers are."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org