Voters across Massachusetts -- energized by what they see as a critical election that will shape the country’s future -- lined up at the polls Saturday on the first day of the state’s early voting period ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.
Next month’s election, which pits President Trump against former vice president Joe Biden in a pitched partisan battle, has already been shaped by the coronavirus pandemic. Fears over Election Day crowds spreading the virus led officials across the country to step up efforts for voters to cast ballots by mail or vote early.
In Massachusetts Saturday, changes forced by the pandemic led to scenes unlike any in recent memory: voters by the hundreds lined up outside Fenway Park, which was turned into a polling place this weekend for Boston residents.
Elsewhere, people gathered at public buildings to vote on a weekend, including Vivian Normandeau, 57, who cast her vote for Biden at Hopkinton’s Senior Center Saturday morning.
“I wanted to make sure my voice was heard,” said Normandeau, who had originally planned to vote Nov. 3. “I was like, I’m there. Why wait?”
As of 2 p.m. Saturday, more than 31 percent of Massachusetts' roughly 4.6 million registered voters had either cast their ballots by mail or voted early in person, according to a statement by Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin’s office. But, that figure did not reflect the majority of votes cast Saturday, Galvin’s office said.
Early voting will continue through Oct. 30, and information for voters on when and where to cast ballots during the early voting period is available at MassEarlyVote.com.
In Hopkinton, several dozen voters lined up -- socially distanced with masks on -- outside the Senior Center -- when the polling place opened at 10 a.m.
Among the voters there was 70-year-old Sarah Alexander, who said she has voted in every presidential election since she was 18. She worked for years in France, and was used to filing a mail-in ballot from overseas.
But this year, she said, “I decided to go in person, socially distanced, to make sure my vote counted.”
“I’m not happy with the current leadership,” Alexander said. “I’m not going to go into it, because then we’d be here all day.”
Later in the morning, another Hopkinton voter -- 24-year-old Alex Flannery, who wore a T-shirt with a large US flag printed on the back -- said he cast his ballot for Trump.
Flannery said he viewed the upcoming election as critical to the future of the country and didn’t trust using the mail to cast such an important ballot. Flannery didn’t vote in 2016, and since then, decided to support Trump.
“He’s the first president since Reagan who has this form of unfiltered speech,” Flannery said. “It doesn’t appeal to everyone. But just because it doesn’t appeal to everyone doesn’t make (what Trump says) not true.”
“The book cover,” Flannery said, “tells the story inside.”
But Trump’s behavior since he has been in office hasn’t impressed everyone who backed him in the last election.
In Blackstone, Deb LaPorte, 53, said she voted for Trump in 2016, but decided to support Biden this year. She changed her mind about Trump while watching him in office.
“It gets old,” she said of Trump’s conduct, particularly his habit of drawing attention to himself.
"He doesn’t present himself as president. He presents himself as ‘me,’ " LaPorte said. “It’s not about you. It’s about everybody.”
“There is so much going on in the world. It’s time for someone else to step in,” LaPorte said.
Many early voters came with a sense of urgency.
Another Blackstone voter, 82-year-old Richard Vespa, was anxious to see Trump replaced in the White House: “I want a new president,” he said.
“I want a more civil person in the White House. Someone who tells the truth,” he said. “I may not be around to enjoy it, but my kids will still be around.”
In Mendon, Mahlana Tempesta, 42, said she voted for Biden Saturday morning at the town hall, where a steady stream of vehicles came and left the building’s small parking lot.
“I was so excited, I was chomping at the bit,” Tempesta said. “I have my mind made up -- I wanted my voice heard.”
In Boston, there was an October buzz at Fenway Park, even though the Red Sox weren’t playing, and a line wrapping around most of the stadium.
Hundreds had arrived by late Saturday morning, one of two days the stadium will be opened to Boston residents to cast early ballots.
“It’s an event,” said Jane Jackson, 62, as she waited near the end of the line, which stretched from the Gate A entrance on Jersey Street around Van Ness and Ipswich streets to the door of the House of Blues on Lansdowne Street.
Voting at Fenway, she said, would someday become “part of the lore of the pandemic.”
Voters entered at Gate A, picked up ballots beneath signs reading “Peanuts and Draft Beer,” and voted by the third base concourse before getting a peek of the field, where the scoreboard read “I VOTED.” The park will also be open for early voting Sunday.
For 22-month-old Matthew, it was his first time at a major league stadium, according to his mother Christina Manicle, 33, as the toddler clammered for an “I Voted at Fenway Park” sticker.
“It’s a very Boston experience,” said Manicle, a Cubs fan who recently moved to the city.
Maura Nee, 57, a West Roxbury resident who once sold hot dogs at the park, came in a Red Sox hat, shirt, and mask.
“It was so nice to see [the field] again,” she said.
Ann Walsh and Jonathan Ablett, both 48, of Dorchester, had made the day into a family outing, replacing their one Red Sox game a year.
Walsh said the chance to vote was far more important than to be at the park, but said “it’s the most Boston trick to vote a full Democratic ticket at Fenway Park.”
Craig Walker and Christina Prignano of the Globe staff contributed to this report.