5 things to know about today’s election in Rhode Island and Mass.

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AP Photo/David Goldman

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally here.

With tens of millions of ballots already in and tens of millions more set to be cast Tuesday, the 2020 general election will soon be in the books. Polls begin closing at 6 p.m., in Indiana and Kentucky, and will do so on a rolling basis across the country until Alaska finishes up at 1 a.m. our time.

Residents of Rhode Island and Massachusetts will be first and foremost watching the same thing as their fellow Americans — will Donald Trump defy the polls and win a second term, or will Joe Biden be replacing him come January?

With an unusually large number of mail ballots being cast this year due to the pandemic, it may take longer than usual to count the votes in various states. Locally, officials say they hope to have most of the mail ballots counted by late Tuesday night.

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While the two states are generally classified as safe bets for the Democratic ticket, there is still plenty to watch locally this Election Day. Here’s a quick cheat sheet.

Does voter turnout hit a new record?

Two years ago, in the 2018 midterm election, voter turnout nationwide soared to its highest level in a century. And it looks like voters remain highly enthusiastic this year, too, with battleground states like Texas already exceeding their total turnout four years ago.

Officials in Rhode Island and Massachusetts are also expecting strong turnout this year, as evidenced by the large number of voters who’ve cast an early ballot — 306,000 in Rhode Island and over 2.3 million in Massachusetts as of Monday night. The head of the R.I. Board of Elections says he expects 72% voter turnout, which would equal roughly 580,000 ballots — smashing the previous record of 475,000 back in 2008.

That said, neither state has any competitive high-profile races, so the only campaigns seeking to draw voters out are state legislative, ballot referendum and municipal ones.

Does Democratic support rebound in RI?

Four years ago, Donald Trump did unusually well for a Republican in Rhode Island, winning nearly 40% of the vote — the highest share for the GOP ticket since George H.W. Bush won the state in 1988. Trump topped 180,000 votes, the most for a Republican since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Even more striking was how poorly Hillary Clinton did relative to her predecessors: the Democratic share of the vote slumped to 54% in Rhode Island, more than eight percentage points below what Barack Obama received in 2012. She received 44,000 fewer votes in Rhode Island than Obama got in his landslide 2008 victory.

Political observers will be watching to see whether Joe Biden comes closer to the level of support that Obama got from Rhode Islanders, as well as whether Trump can maintain his relatively strong support from four years ago.

Also of interest: do Rhode Island and Massachusetts vote in lockstep or split apart again? Up until 2016 the two states had been voting for Democratic presidential nominees by about the same margin. But four years ago they diverged thanks to Trump’s relatively strong showing in Rhode Island, putting the widest gap between them since the 1972 Nixon-McGovern election. (Massachusetts was the only state McGovern won that year.)

Does Speaker Mattiello survive in Cranston?

If that question gives you déjà vu, it’s understandable. Rhode Island’s powerful House speaker, Nick Mattiello, represents one of the most Republican-friendly districts in the state, and that means he’s been vulnerable to defeat for three election cycles in a row.

This time Mattiello faces GOP nominee Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, the wife of outgoing Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, making it a true clash of political heavyweights in Rhode Island’s second-biggest city. Four years ago Mattiello squeaked out an 85-vote victory even as Donald Trump swept the district; observers on both sides see the race as quite competitive again this year.

Mattiello’s race matters not only to the residents of Western Cranston but to all of Rhode Island, because if he were to lose it would open up the speakership for the first time since 2014, with all sorts of implications for future policy at the State House.

Who will be Rhode Island’s newest mayors?

Southeastern Massachusetts isn’t electing any mayors this year, but Rhode Island has a number of mayoral contests worth watching.

The top draw is once again in Cranston, where Mayor Fung is barred by term limits from running again, ensuring the city will have a new mayor for the first time in 12 years. Republican City Councilperson Ken Hopkins is facing Democratic former City Councilperson Maria Bucci.

Warwick Mayor Joe Solomon, a Democrat, has a viable challenger in independent Frank Picozzi, and Central Falls will also be electing a new leader as James Diossa departs due to term limits; City Council President Maria Rivera is heavily favored over former police chief Joseph Moran. Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt is being challenged by former state representative and City Councilor Jon Brien, too.

Does Massachusetts change its electoral system?

Like Rhode Island, Massachusetts has no competitive races for high-profile federal or state offices. But it does have one of the more interesting ballot questions for voters to consider: Question 2, which would switch Massachusetts to ranked-choice voting.

If Question 2 passes, starting in 2022 Massachusetts voters will use their ballots to rank their favorites in multi-candidate races. If a candidate is the first choice of at least 50% of voters, he or she wins; if not, the candidate with the least support is eliminated from contention, and the votes of those who had originally backed that candidate are redistributed to their second choices. The process continues until one candidate clears 50% of the vote and is declared the winner.

A recent poll showed a tight race on Question 2. Also on the ballot: Rhode Island voters will decide whether to remove “and Providence Plantations” from the state’s official name, and Massachusetts voters will decide on a Right to Repair proposal involving electronic data.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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