BOSTON — With the mercury rising, Secretary of State William Galvin Monday predicted a potentially record low turnout in today’s special election for U.S. Senate, estimating that 1.6 million voters will cast ballots out of 4.3 million registered voters.
Describing himself as “very concerned” by the apparent lack of interest in the race between 37-year congressman Edward Markey and Cohasset businessman Gabriel Gomez, Galvin said his estimated turnout totals would fall well short of the baseline of 2.2 million votes cast, a number he derived based on patterns in recent U.S. Senate contests.
“I’m very concerned, as I said last week, about the potential for the turnout being relatively low,” Galvin said, adding, “I’d like nothing more than to be wrong.”
As both candidates barnstormed the state Monday trying to energize their bases and remind voters about today’s election, a new Suffolk University poll showed Markey holding a 10-point advantage over Gomez and leading the Republican by double digits in bellwether communities such as Lowell, Dartmouth and South Hadley.
Galvin suggested that political factors as well as the Boston Bruins playoff run, the trial of Whitey Bulger, the timing of the election in the early summer and the heat have all contributed to diminished interest in the race and could drive down turnout.
“We don’t usually have elections in heat waves, but we may do that tomorrow,” Galvin said.
Through Monday morning, 63,000 voters had cast absentee ballots compared to 105,000 at the same point in the January 2010 special election between Scott Brown and Martha Coakley for U.S. Senate. Galvin said hits on his website and calls to his office have also been down. Absentee balloting ended at noon on Monday.
There are signs that Cape Ann communities may prove an exception. In Manchester, town voters are also facing two referendum questions asking them to allow a one-time debt exclusion Proposition 2 1/2 override, primarily to fund repairs to the town’s seawall and Manchester Harbor.
In Gloucester, assistant city clerk Marie Giambanco she’s a bit more optimistic than the secretary of state.
She said the city had handled 260 absentee ballots his time around, compared to 483 used in the 2010 Brown-Coakley race. But she added the city has seen “quite a bit of good activity” over the election — even as the city prepares for this week’s and weekend’s St. Peter’s Fiesta on top of the other statewide distractions.
Using the past three U.S. Senate races held in non-presidential election years as his benchmark, Galvin said he expected turnout to fall well below the 2.1 million votes cast during the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s re-election effort in 1982, the low-water mark over the past 30 years.
“I do know that both campaigns, which we’ve been in contact with, are making very furious efforts to bring out their supporters,” Galvin said.
But, noting the last special election between Brown and Coakley when 2.25 million voters cast ballots, Galvin said the “fever pitch” during that campaign stemmed from national interest in the federal health care law and Brown’s promise to be the 60th vote needed in the Senate to block the bill’s passage.
“None of those factors are present in this particular case,” said Galvin, a Democrat. “Ironically, it is now more apparent that the U.S. Senate is the only place apparently in the federal government that things can get done, so it makes participation ..., you would think, all the more important.”
Yet, in addition to the start of summer vacations and public interest in the Bruins and the Bulger trial, Galvin said the heat wave could discourage senior citizens and others from voting, just as winter weather does during normal cycles.
The Democrat said his office is prepared in case of blackouts resulting from the high temperatures, and has reminded town and city clerks to check the batteries of their vote-counting machines.
“We’re not counting on a power outage,” Galvin said. “We suspect the only power outage we have to worry about is the voters.”
The combined cost of the primary and general elections to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to total at least $13.6 million for the state and its cities and towns, which maintain all of their regular polling places. That includes 10 precincts in nine locations in Gloucester, three in Rockport, and one each in Essex and Manchester, which stage their polling places in the town fire station and at Memorial Elementary School, respectively.
The cost includes $5.2 million for Galvin’s office to print ballots and reimbursements for cities and towns.