Rep. Sheila Harrington looking forward to sixth term in the Nashoba Valley

Not all votes counted, but incumbent leads 13,043 to 12,228 in unofficial results

State Rep. Sheila Harrington, running for reelection in the 1st Middlesex district, with her husband Steve Harrington, outside the Groton-Dunstable Middle School polling location. (SUN/Julia Malakie)
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GROTON — Despite a global pandemic impacting voter practices and tough competition, 1st Middlesex District incumbent Rep. Sheila Harrington narrowly defeated Deb Busser Tuesday.

According to unofficial results tallied Tuesday night, Harrington, the Republican, won her sixth consecutive term with a preliminary total of 13,043 votes to Democrat Busser’s 12,228 votes.

Both candidates live in Groton.

Speaking Wednesday morning, she said she was not surprised by how close the race was given how Busser ran a “really good campaign” with “a lot of passion and drive.”

Harrington also felt “reinvigorated” by how competitive the race turned out to be.

“This race felt as contested as my first race was back in 2010,” Harrington said. “I hope that my next race doesn’t have COVID because I want to work harder and be more prepared.”

Busser founded her own consulting firm in 2003 that supported organizational leaders planning for transitions and coached them on building new relationships. She did not return telephone messages Wednesday.

While mail-in ballots and early in-person voting have been well-publicized alternatives to Election Day, numerous residents turned out to multiple polling places throughout the district Tuesday. For many, like Groton resident Brian Meyers, voting on Election Day is typical for him. Though coming from casting his ballot on Tuesday at the Groton-Dunstable Middle School North, he understands how practical the alternative can be.

  • Democratic challenger for 1st Middlesex state representative seat, Deb Busser, stands with supporters ouside the Peter Fitzpatrick School polling location in Pepperell. At right are Rose Follett of Pepperell, Zack Gavel of Groton, and Jeanne Nevard of Pepperell with her dog Bluebell. (SUN/Julia Malakie)

  • Trump supporters Tricia Young of Pepperell, left, and Bethany Kane of Pepperell, right, wave at passing cars at the Pepperell rotary. The fire engine belongs to another supporter from Pepperell (who did not want to give his name). (SUN/Julia Malakie)

  • Trump supporters Tricia Young of Pepperell, left, and Bethany Kane of Pepperell, right, wave at passing cars at the Pepperell rotary. The fire engine belongs to another supporter from Pepperell (who did not want to give his name). (SUN/Julia Malakie)

  • State Rep. Sheila Harrington, running for reelection in the 1st Middlesex district, with her husband Steve Harrington, outside the Groton-Dunstable Middle School polling location. (SUN/Julia Malakie)

  • State Rep. Sheila Harrington, running for reelection in the 1st Middlesex district, stands with supporters outside the Groton-Dunstable Middle School polling location. From left, Therese O’Malley and her daughter Mary Kate O’Malley of Groton, Sheila Harrington, Julie DeLuca of Harwich (formerly of Groton), Raquel Steinfeld of Lunenburg, and Harrington’s husband Steve Harrington. (SUN/Julia Malakie)

  • From left, Pat Hartvigsen, Mary Jennings and Ginger Vollmer, all of Groton, hold signs for Biden/Harris, Ed Markey, and state rep candidate Deb Busser outside the Groton-Dunstable Middle School polling location. (SUN/Julia Malakie)

  • Democratic challenger for 1st Middlesex state representative seat, Deb Busser, stands with supporters ouside the Peter Fitzpatrick School polling location in Pepperell. From left, Carol Berman of Townsend, Deb Busser, Evan Torlin of Lowell, Rose Follett of Pepperell, Zack Gavel of Groton, Jeanne Nevard of Pepperell with her dog Bluebell, and Kathleen O’Connor of Ayer. (SUN/Julia Malakie)

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“I’m old-fashioned, so voting now is what I usually do,” Meyers said. “I do think early voting is a smart idea, I might do it next time. My brother-in-law is a volunteer counting ballots in Littleton, he enjoys doing stuff like that.”

“I’m just more accustomed to voting on Election Day,” fellow Groton resident Joe Ravagno said. “2020 has been such a weird year, doing this just feels normal. I do know that a lot of people in my family voted by mail, it was more convenient for them to do so.”

While waiting in line at the Peter Fitzpatrick School building in Pepperell, local resident Melissa Connors said this was only her second time voting in-person. She spent 11 years living in New York City and usually filled out absentee ballots, voting in-person for the first time at the 2016 Presidential Election.

“I wanted the experience of in-person voting,” Connors said in line. “I think everyone I know has voted early. My parents are in their 60s and my twin sister in California is pregnant, so they had health concerns about big crowds.”

Jennifer Pizzano, of Pepperell, and Chuck Walkozich, chair of the local Republican Town Committee, both proudly voted in person on Tuesday and talked about it as a civic duty. Walkozich knew not everyone shared his opinion, estimating the rest of Pepperell’s residents being split “50-50” between those who voted in-person and those who submitted mail-in ballots.

“Election Day is Election Day and I think it’s important to physically vote,” he said.

“I got three mail-in ballots and didn’t fill out any,” Pizzano added. “Today is voting day and I feel that you should be here today.”

Other residents took advantage of early options for voting in order to avoid anticipated large crowds, out of concern for the coronavirus and to avoid the 30-degree temperatures on Election Day. Janet Sheffield of Groton used early voting hours to cast her ballot two weeks ago.

“I think most of the people I know did the same,” she added. “I was concerned about mail-in voting because there was so much publicity about the process. I trust mail-in voting, but felt more comfortable voting in-person.”

Zack Gavel, a political science major at Northeastern University and fellow Groton resident, voted by mail since it was the most convenient way for college students like him to cast their ballots.

“Most of my family also voted by mail, we all voted together which was nice,” Gavel said. “Part of it was for convenience sake and part of it was for safety reasons to not expose themselves. Voting is like their Super Bowl, they’re very passionate about it.”

For those concerned about the actual process of tabulating mail-in ballots, the process appears to be very well-structured. Take it from Jeanne Nevard, a Pepperell resident who helped organize and inspect mail-in ballots at Pepperell Town Hall earlier this week. Nevard noted that, not only were other volunteers inspecting ballots safely spaced out at Town Hall, but the ballots themselves were alphabetized and organized in bundles of 50 to pace out the observation. A similar process was carried out in town during this year’s primaries.

“It was great to see how seamless this was done,” she added. “We had a nice template earlier this year and I think there’s no possibility of ballot fraud.”

Nevard herself voted by mail-in ballot, saying it was the more convenient option for her and crediting town officials for helping her with the process.

According to unofficial results, Busser defeated Harrington in Ayer with 1,161 votes to the incumbent’s 931. Harrington beat Busser in Pepperell with 3,879 votes to her challenger’s 3,085. In Townsend, Harrington defeated Busser with 2,982 votes to 2,237 votes. In the candidates’ hometown of Groton, preliminary results showed Busser victorious with 3,862 votes to Harrington’s 3,106 votes. Ashby also had unofficial results, with Harrington beating Busser 1,069 to 889. Dunstable’s preliminary results also showed Harrington beating Busser 1,076 to 994, but Town Clerk Carol Skerrett noted that officials will be counting ballots next Monday at 11 a.m. to include those that were hand delivered to the polls on Tuesday, those postmarked Tuesday and delivered up to Friday.

With final official election results in the other towns not tabulated as of Tuesday night, Nevard and other supporters felt strongly about supporting newcomer Busser.

“Deb is a go-getter and incredibly earnest,” she said. “She’s more focused on her constituents and more accessible, which I’ve always been impressed with.”

“I know we need a full-time representative on Beacon Hill and I know Deb will be proactive and responsible,” Gavel said. “I’m excited about her energy and the perspective she’ll have as a small business owner.”

“I was impressed by her desire to bring more state money to the town as well as the whole district,” Sheffield said. “I know Sheila personally, but I’m very upset with the Republican Party.”

Julie DeLuca, a resident of Harwich formerly of Groton, believes that the current political landscape has eclipsed the beneficial work incumbent Harrington has done for the district.

“All the bills she’s supported, the dedication she’s given to the job and the support she’s shown for seniors and educators,” she explained. “All she wants to do is serve.”

“She’s been very supportive of veterans, people’s rights and gun control,” Walkozich said. “She’s a concerned individual.”