Surge In Absentee Ballots For Massachusetts Primary

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By Sam Doran

An increase in absentee ballot usage is making it harder to estimate voter turnout for next Tuesday’s primary election, Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin’s office said Thursday.

Under “normal circumstances,” Galvin would predict around 500,000 voters or fewer will cast ballots, spokeswoman Deb O’Malley told State House News Service — around 11 percent — in an election that includes primary contests for governor and heated Democratic primaries in three Congressional districts. “But it could be higher. It’s hard to make specific predictions here given the special circumstances,” she said.

As of Thursday morning, around 10,000 more voters had requested absentee ballots compared to previous years, O’Malley said, making it difficult to gauge expected turnout. The uptick is possibly because those voters will be out of town for Labor Day, she said, or they “may have found early voting convenient [in 2016] and want to do it again.” Absentee ballots, a form of early voting, can be obtained at city and town halls through 5 p.m. Friday.

Of the 4,493,007 citizens eligible to vote next Tuesday, the majority (55 percent) are not enrolled in a party and have their choice of a Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian ballot. Thirty-three percent are formally registered as Democrats, 10 percent as Republicans, and less than 1 percent as Libertarians.

Overall registration is up by over 230,000 since the last gubernatorial primary in 2014, while both major parties have lost members and the ranks of unenrolled voters have swelled by more than 210,000.

The number of registered Democrats in Massachusetts fell 16,870 from the 2014 primary to this month, while the state Republican Party shed 535 registered voters. Libertarians gained party status since the 2014 election and have over 14,000 members heading into the primary.

The 2014 Democratic primary race for governor between Attorney General Martha Coakley, Treasurer Steven Grossman, and pediatrician Donald Berwick drew over 550,000 voters. Close to 160,000 cast ballots in the race between Charlie Baker and Mark Fisher.

When incumbent Deval Patrick and first-time candidate Baker ran unopposed in 2010, the Democrat and Republican primaries drew over 480,000 and 240,000 voters respectively.

More than a million Bay Staters cast ballots in September 2006, when 900,000 voters weighed in on the Democratic contest between newcomer Patrick, Attorney General Thomas Riley, and businessman Christopher Gabrieli.

Galvin, the state’s chief elections overseer who faces a challenge Tuesday from Boston Councilor Josh Zakim, will not hold his usual pre-primary press briefing to discuss election statistics and prognostications.

He would normally schedule a briefing for the day before the election, his spokeswoman said, but the day before this election is Labor Day.

A Galvin campaign spokeswoman said Thursday she was unsure where Galvin will be Tuesday night. As secretary, Galvin oversees the elections but he is also a candidate on Tuesday and many campaigns have scheduled parties with their supporters.