Galvin: Primary turnout could fall below 10 percent

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STATE HOUSE — The combination of no marquee statewide races fueling voter enthusiasm and scant competition for the scores of local elected offices that are up for grabs this cycle will ensure low voter turnout in Thursday’s primaries, Secretary of State William Galvin said Tuesday.

Galvin, the state’s chief elections officer, predicted that between 8 percent and 10 percent of the state’s 4.37 million registered voters will turn out on Thursday across the state.

Considering the electoral landscape, however, Galvin said that total would be a “reasonably good” outcome compared to similar years with no statewide contests driving voters to the polls.

“The real story here, and it’s really told in these script sheets, is the lack of candidates. There aren’t many legislative challenges. Many people ran unopposed,” Galvin said.

Candidates running for everything from the state Legislature to Congress, sheriff, Governor’s Council or register of deeds will be on the ballot on Thursday. Republicans are challenging in only four of the state’s nine Congressional districts – all held by Democrats – and there is only one primary on the GOP side for Congress in Rep. William Keating’s Ninth District on the South Shore and Cape Cod.

Galvin said a 10 percent turnout would be roughly on par with the 2012 primaries that were also held on a Thursday when there was a statewide race, but it was an uncontested contest for U.S. Senate. By comparison, gubernatorial races or contested U.S. Senate or U.S. House seats can drive primary voter turnout to between 25 percent and 30 percent, or even as high as 40 percent.

“That’s not going to happen,” he said.

Participation in this year’s primary elections, however, is not expected to be uniform across the state with some areas, like Cape Cod, playing host to multiple contested contests that increase voter awareness of the elections and will drive more voters to the polls.

“Turnout will vary largely depending upon where there are local contests,” Galvin said during a pre-primary press conference. He highlighted the Cape and Hampden and Essex counties where overlapping races for House and Senate seats, sheriffs’ offices and even Governor’s Council will help increase voter turnout.

In total, 126 legislators are running unopposed this year. Seventeen other races will also be decided in Thursday’s primaries — three in the Senate and 14 in the House, including four open House seats.

“The interest both here and nationally is on the general election, the presidential campaign. It has absorbed virtually all of everyone’s political attention, but these primaries are important. The legislative races are important. A number of these seats that are open, they don’t open up that often,” Galvin said.

Since the early February deadline to register to participate in the March presidential primary, voter enrollment has climbed about 2.2 percent with 94,877 additional registered voters on the rolls as of the Aug. 19 deadline for pre-primary registration.

Voter registrations have continued at a brisk pace since that deadline, according to officials, but Galvin said voter registrations are not a good predictor of turnout in the primaries because he believes most are registering to be ready to vote in the November general election for president.

The high number of unenrolled voters in Massachusetts – 53.6 percent of the electorate – also means many could choose to sit out the party primaries, Galvin said.

Democrats hold a new-voter registration advantage over Republicans by more than three-to-one with the number of voters enrolled in the Democratic Party climbing by 18,778 compared to 4,925 new Republican voters. The Republican Party actually saw its share of the electorate decline marginally from 10.96 percent to 10.84 percent since February, while Democratic Party enrollment crept up slightly to 34.56 percent.

This year’s primary elections were scheduled on a Thursday instead of the traditional Tuesday to give Galvin time to prepare the general election ballots to be shipped overseas at least 45 days before the Nov. 8 election and to avoid forcing municipalities to pay poll workers overtime to set up over the Labor Day weekend.

“I’m quite confident it’s not going to have any adverse effect on turnout, in fact if anything I think it’s going to give people a chance to catch their breath and if they have a local race it’s going to give those campaigns, no matter who they are or what they are, an extra 48 hours to remind people about voting,” Galvin said.

Galvin said he hopes to begin printing general election ballots next week, and he has advised local officials that any disputed results or recount will have to be resolved “within days.”

Two races that could complicate that timeline for the Brighton Democrat are happening on the South Shore where former Rep. Garrett Bradley’s name is the only one on the ballot despite his resignation and the candidates seeking to replace him are all running sticker campaigns. One of those candidates is Joan Meschino, whose name will appear on the ballot for the state Senate district on the South Shore despite her switching gears to focus on the House seats.

“We’re concerned,” Galvin said, adding, “For us, the most important thing is a definitive result.”

Galvin said he has spoken with Democratic Party officials about naming a replacement nominee quickly should Bradley prevail in the House race and decline the nomination, as he would be expected to do, or if Meschino were to win the Senate nomination and decline.

Though this is the first year the state will implement early voting, the new process will only be in effect for the November general election starting on Oct. 24. Galvin said his office continues to work with cities and towns on setting up polling locations and hours for early voting, but said there continue to be some communities, including Burlington, Reading and Holden, who are refusing to open on weekends for early voting.

“We’ve seen a more positive attitude since we offered them money to open,” Galvin said, referring to stipends of up to $2,000 available per community through his office to offset the cost of early voting poll hours. “Money works.”

— Written by Matt Murphy

Copyright State House News Service