Underlying the excitement of the vote in last Tuesday’s City Election was the absence of a vote, with fewer than 10,000 votes cast in a hotly contested set of elections.
On an exceptionally beautiful autumn day, in a race that featured a heated race for an open mayoral seat and a feisty at-large City Council race, one would have expected a healthy amount of people coming out to cast their votes.
But early on it began to appear to Election Department officials that the excitement of those involved in the races was not going to translate to any meaningful voter turnout.
A few weeks before the election, absentee ballots were way down. In fact, they were down by several hundred compared to previous years. In the end, there were about 300 fewer absentee ballots than in previous mayoral elections.
That information led Election Commissioner Diane Colella to bring down her prediction and to call a conservative turnout of 49 percent. However, that even turned out to be overly optimistic when only 39 percent of registered voters came to the polls.
Not even 10,000 votes were cast, but rather 9,569.
Mayor-elect Dan Rizzo took the top seat with just fewer than 5,500 votes, while Councillor Bob Haas – the ticket topper on the City Council at-large seat – received just fewer than 4,500 votes.
It was perhaps the lowest turnout in a contested mayoral election that the City has ever seen, and certainly it was the lowest in recent history.
“Turnout was awful,” said Colella this week. “I think everyone in the races worked very well. It was a good day and I just wish the turnout had been better.”
In a review of mayoral elections in the recent past, it appears that no election prior had brought out so few voters – even uncontested elections.
Even in 2001, when Mayor Tom Ambrosino ran uncontested, there were 42 percent of voters that came out.
In 2003 when former Councillor John Jordan faced off against the incumbent Mayor Ambrosino, there were 48 percent who voted. Then, in a high-profile race in 1999 between Ambrosino and then-Mayor Bob Haas, there were 58 percent that came out to vote.
Many had wondered this time around if the immigrant and new voters in the city might make a difference in the results, but the answer to that question was a very large ‘no.’ Even with Spanish language voting materials and a translator on hand, the numbers of new voters was not significant, and perhaps wasn’t even there.
“I don’t think any of the Spanish language materials were used this time,” said Colella. “If there was anything more that could have been done to reach out, then I don’t know what it was. I think maybe it’s a language barrier, but then again we have materials in different languages. I really, really tried when we did the 2010 federal Census and I just couldn’t pull people in…I reached out to people, but it’s like they are very closed.”
By all standards, it was a disappointing turnout in Revere on Election Day – but it was a phenomena that crossed city lines into places like Everett and Quincy.
In Quincy – a very political city – they had the lowest turnout ever for a contested mayoral election – with only 35 percent voting.
There were two viable mayoral candidates in that race, and the excitement in parts of the city was very visible. However, when it came to heading to the polls, that visible excitement didn’t turn into votes.
Quincy City Clerk Joe Shea did not return a call to the Journal in time to comment on this story, but he did tell other media outlets that he felt there was a tremendous amount of voter apathy. He said he sensed that most people just don’t care.
In Everett, City Clerk Michael Matarazzo said that his city’s poll numbers are increasingly lower every year as well.
This time around, incumbent Mayor Carlo DeMaria Jr. faced a challenger, Peter Napolitano. Though it wasn’t a heated race, it certainly was a race and there was also a very important ballot question that served to change the City Charter and completely altar that City’s form of government.
It was a widely discussed election, he said, but it wasn’t one in which a lot of people came out to vote.
He said that the mayoral race drew just under 6,500 votes in total, which is about 35 percent turnout.
He indicated that a few years ago, when there was a more heated mayoral race, voter turnout was still well below 40 percent.
“I think each community, whether Everett, Revere or Quincy has this reliable voting block – that big block that campaigns can count on to go to the polls,” he said. “In Everett, I think it’s a little larger than 6,600 voters, but I don’t think it exceeds 7,000 people…Every time you will have that hard core greatest generation and maybe the generation after that who will vote. Once you get beyond that, I don’t think the impetus is there for them to vote.”
He said that he thinks low turnout has to do with the tone of federal and state elections, and perhaps some of the grudges that endure in local battles.
“I think it’s the tone of political campaigning that makes it unattractive to young people,” he said. “Do they really want to be part of something so confrontational? It’s not pulling them in; it’s driving them off. It’s just too nasty and it spills over into the municipal elections, where sometimes a campaign can result in a lifelong grudge and there is no mending of fences going on like there used to be. Until all of that changes – especially in the state and federal elections – I don’t see a big change in turnout.”
Election Notebook -
•A quick and deserved apology to School Committeewoman Carol Tye for an error in last week’s Election Results. Unfortunately, Tye’s results were confused with those of Candidate Rick Freni while reporting on deadline.
For the record, Tye received 5,276 votes.
That total was the second highest vote total on the ballot, only behind Mayor-elect Dan Rizzo, who had 5,429 votes. Many have already postulated about that close vote between the two, as Tye had been considered a contender for the seat during the early days of the election.
Tye proved once again that she is a major force at the polls.
•The Ethanol Train ballot question took a resounding victory, with those against it carrying the day in a 4-to-1 edge.
Nevertheless, there were nearly 4,000 blanks on the question, leading question organizer Ed O’Hara to concede that many people missed the question on the ballot and that many found it confusing.
Conversations with poll workers on Election Day confirmed that, as a number of those workers said that the elderly were skipping the question because the type was far too small for them to see.
“I apologize, really, because the confusion of the question was my fault,” he said. “I congratulate all the people who came out and voted against Ethanol Trains. The fight will continue.”
The question involves a proposed plan by Global Oil of Lee Burbank Highway to begin bringing trains filled with Ethanol to their terminal for the purpose of blending into gasoline, and perhaps shipping the product out on tankers and in trucks. It would be the first time that an Ethanol train has had a final destination in eastern Massachusetts.
The final tally was 4,603 votes against the proposal and 1,055 votes for the proposal. There were 3,911 blank votes.
•Speaking of blank votes, a number of people quietly raised their eyebrows at three uncontested Ward Councillor races in which there were a heaping helping of blank votes.
In an uncontested race, many times blank votes are seen as a sign of voter disapproval. On the other hand, others would contend that people skip over the choice because of the fact that it is uncontested.
The largest number of blanks went to Ward 4 Councillor Stephen Reardon, who has been growing in popularity during his first term on the Council. However, he had some 41 percent blank votes. The official tally was 1,028 votes for Reardon and 719 blanks.
The other blanks that were of note came for Ward 6 Councillor Charlie Patch (who had 693 blanks, 34 percent) and Ward 3 Councillor Arthur Guinasso (554 blanks, 35 percent).
•With two candidates calling the Satter House on the Boulevard home, one would think that there would be a swell of voting from that location – especially considering that the facility has a voting precinct within its building.
However, logic worked against everyone who expected the Satter House to give a big vote. There ended up being an exceptionally low turnout there as compared to previous years.
One observer said that there had just been too much campaigning inside the building for the last several months, which ended up turning off most of the voters there.
•Ward 1 Councillor Richard Penta delivered a tried and true win last Tuesday, but it wasn’t the kind of blow out that many had believed it would be.
Penta was running against Candidate Gregg Lacedra, who didn’t run a very visible campaign until late in the process. However, he was out there and apparently it did resonate with a good many of the voters.
Lacedra ended up getting 582 votes, or 36 percent.
Penta scored 880 votes, or 54 percent.
It was far closer than anyone expected, and some observers said that it could indicate an open door for any big-named candidate in the Library Street area who has Beachmont roots. Such a candidate has not existed in decades, if ever, but could capitalize on what appears to be a notable vote in opposition of the incumbent.
All of that is conjecture, though, and for now Penta returns with a convincing victory and perhaps a leadership position in the works on the Council.
•Many might wonder what happens when someone who voted absentee passes away before the election. That odd question was answered this time around when a woman from the Boulevard – who had voted absentee about a month ago – passed away a few weeks before the election. The answer to the question is that they throw the ballot out.
The vote doesn’t count.