Massachusetts turnout remarkably high for a special election

Roger Leo Contributor
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Voter turnout across Massachusetts appears to be remarkably high for a special election. Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown are running neck-and-neck in the election, with Independent Joe Kennedy polling in low single numbers.

Brian McNiff, spokesman for Secretary of State William F. Galvin, said, “The turnout’s pretty good. The secretary has said he expects 1.6 million to 2.2 million voters to turn out, and there’s nothing to indicate that’s going to be wrong. The numbers we’re seeing are trending toward the high end.

“Boston is not turning out in sweeping numbers, but at noon the city was just 3,000 votes behind the turnout in the state election of ’06, when Deval Patrick was running for governor, and Ted Kennedy was running for re-election although I don’t think that was much of a race, and Congress and the state Legislature were on the ballot. Boston had 55,309 by noon today, and in ’06 they had 58,000-something by noon.”

As of 3 p.m., 81,882 voters had cast ballots in Boston. That’s about 23 percent of the city’s 358,105 registered voters.

“It looks like we’re going to have a turnout in the high 40 percent range, and that’s pretty good for a special,” McNiff said.

“It should be a simple and straightforward count tonight, since it’s a simple ballot,” he said.

Gladys Oyola, Springfield election commissioner, said, “It’s been very brisk today, with a steady stream of people since the polls opened this morning. If it keeps going at the pace we’re seeing now, turnout could be 25 to 30 percent, up quite a bit from the special election in December.” Then, 9.5 percent of registered voters cast ballots in Springfield; by noon today, that number had been surpassed, Oyola said.

“There’s been a turnaround in terms of people’s interest level in just the past two weeks, with calls coming in every day for registration information and absentee ballots,” Oyola said.

Reports from campaign workers around the state indicate very heavy turnout around Worcester County, with some predicting the heaviest turnout in decades in many of the region’s small town.

Princeton, a town of 3,800 residents in the hills of Central Massachusetts, had more than 750 voters, about 29 percent of those registered, cast ballots by noon.

Holden had seen 40 percent of registered voters in two precincts cast ballots by noon, with 1,200 of 2,700 voters in one precinct, and 901 out of 2,400 voters in another precinct already voting.

Arlington, in Eastern Massachusetts, appears to be heading toward a 45 percent to 50 percent turnout. “The snow doesn’t appear to be keeping people away,” one campaign worker said there, “but if it were a nice day, we’d have a record-breaking turnout.”

Duxbury, on the South Shore, is heading toward the biggest turnout in 30 years.

Random observations from around the state included these: Brown seemed to have gotten his supporters to the polls early, with Coakley voters expected to turn out later; Brown campaign signs were abundant on the bridges to and from Cape Cod; Worcester County, especially, has seen a predominant number of women voting; and that Coakley campaign workers in Worcester had arranged for 100 rides to the polls as of 3 p.m.

The week leading up to today has seen an almost constant barrage of political advertising, inescapable on network TV during prime time, combined with a steady stream of campaign calls to home telephone numbers.

About 66 percent of the state’s 4.2 million voters turned in the 2008 presidential election, choosing Obama over McCain by a roughly 62 percent to 38 percent margin.

Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in Massachusetts, 1.56 million to about 490,000, but unenrolled voters outnumber both, at 2.14 million, more than half the total number of registered voters.