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Voting not to participate

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What if they held an election and nobody came? It darn near happened in Brockton this week when only 4.7 percent of voters turned out for the city’s preliminary election.

And it wasn’t much better in other communities across the state that held preliminaries and special elections Tuesday. In Worcester, only 8.6 percent turned out for a crowded city council race and in Springfield, a historically low 14.6 percent of voters cast ballots in an election that featured a spirited mayoral race. The last two preliminaries, in 2009 and 2007, had single digit turnout but neither of those elections had a contest for mayor on the ballot.

Springfield’s Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola had predicted a 10 percent turnout so she said she was “pleasantly surprised” at the relatively robust figure. But is that what it’s come to, that just one in seven voters perform that quintessential democratic – small “d” – act and we are “pleasantly surprised?”

In Quincy, one of the state’s biggest political hotbeds, only 14 percent of voters turned out with some precincts that had open seats and preliminaries polling in the single digits. One ward councilor candidate said, “Fifty percent of the ward voted for change tonight; they voted against the incumbent.”

Since the incumbent actually received 51 percent of the vote in the three-way race, the challenger can be forgiven his momentary euphoria, if not his faulty math. But further simple analysis shows 50 percent of the ward did not vote for change because less than 10 percent of the Ward 6 voters went to the polls. That means only 5 percent of the voters cast their lot for change and the other 95 percent are going to have to live with it.

There were also a couple of special elections and low turnout had a measurable effect in at least one race. Republican Keiko Orrall of Lakeville won the 12th Bristol seat for state representative by capturing 74 percent of the vote in her hometown, where turnout was 30 percent. But in New Bedford, which Democrat Roger Brunelle Jr. carried, only 11.2 percent of voters cast ballots.
                                                                                   
The special primary in the 3rd Berkshire district that encompasses Pittsfield had a 17 percent turnout amid what some speculate could be ballot fatigue. The special was the first of four elections with the city’s preliminary coming next Tuesday, the special election for the seat Oct. 18, and then the general municipal election on Nov. 8.

There is another cost to the low turnout in these days of tight fiscal times. Cities and towns still are required to man polls from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., have people ready to count votes, and pay for police details. In Brockton, the cost to run the election equaled $55 per vote. Peabody spent $40,000 for a preliminary election to pare the number of candidates for Municipal Light Board from five to four. No other races were on the ballot, which ended with just 6.2 percent of voters turning out, a cost of nearly $19 per vote.

Peter Ubertaccio, director of the Martin Institute for Law and Society at Stonehill College, told the Brockton Enterprise that turnout for local and primary elections is traditionally low. Beyond that, he said, it’s difficult to say why people choose not to vote.

“It could be general satisfaction (with the status quo), apathy, or not a compelling reason to vote for one of the candidates,” he said.

Perhaps the reason is best summed up by some nonvoters interviewed by the Enterprise. “I had no idea there was an election going on. What was it for?” asked Ghulam Malik, 35. “Oh man, my old teachers would kill me if they knew this.”


                                                                                                                             --JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

Sen. Dan Wolfe, a Harwich Democrat, filed an amendment to the Senate version of the casino bill that would expedite the application process for recognized Indian tribes seeking to build a casino.

Voter ID opponents argue that requiring valid photo identification at the polls would depress the vote among minorities, the elderly, young people, and the poor.

Massachusetts sold $500 million in bonds at a 2.9 percent interest rate after landing the highest credit rating in the state’s history. It’s a significant accomplishment, but Gov. Deval Patrick, Treasurer Steve Grossman, and legislative leaders got a bit carried away contrasting their cooperative approach to fiscal problems with the mortal combat going on in Washington. In Washington, two political parties are engaged in a broad philosophical debate; in Massachusetts, everyone is from the same party and disagreements tend to be about strategy, not substance, like whether slots should be included in a gambling bill.

The state Supreme Judicial Court upholds a law requiring motorists to pay filing fees to appeal traffic tickets, the Salem News reports.

The Boston Herald has two words for those wondering why the state GOP continues to make inroads in the House, but not the state Senate: Sal DiMasi.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Whitman officials, with support of other towns in the area, say groups soliciting donations for veterans are “borderline fraud” and urged businesses to stop letting them use their property to collect money.

The Lawrence City Council rejects Mayor William Lantigua’s request to give the acting public works director a permanent appointment, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The Archdiocese of Boston has subpoenaed two leaders of the group who have occupied a closed Scituate church in an attempt to recover $150,000 in property taxes from the town.
 
Roxbury residents wonder why they weren’t informed about the sale of a parcel of land owned by the city of Boston.

Foxborough town officials work to resurrect a controversial pedestrian bridge over Route 1 at Gillette Stadium.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Here we go again: The House fails to pass a stopgap spending measure, so the countdown to a Sept. 30 government shutdown can begin.

The Eagle-Tribune, in an editorial, says the math behind Obama’s tax-the-rich proposal doesn’t add up.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, the Tea Party icon from Kentucky, says the poor in America are doing all right, thank you very much, and don’t really need much taxpayer help. He says studies show the “typical” poor household has “a car, air conditioning, two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and an Xbox. Its home is in good repair and bigger than the average (non-poor) European home. They report that in the past year they were not hungry, were able to obtain medical care as necessary, and could afford all essential needs.” He wrote that in the National Review.

US Rep. Barney Frank will divest campaign donations from three alleged Ponzi schemers at Full Tilt Poker, but maintains that the episode shows “online gambling should be legal, so government can regulate it.”

ELECTION 2012

President Obama’s support drops among African-Americans.

With her multiple sclerosis held in check, Ann Romney has taken to the campaign trail. Her husband desperately wants you to know how ordinary he is.

Wendy Kaminer weighs the politics of class and gender in a (still hypothetical!) Scott Brown-Elizabeth Warren showdown.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Shed no tears for the uber-rich, says Keller@Large, who points out 65 percent of the 400 people on Forbes richest Americans list increased their wealth in the last year while only 18 percent joined the struggling classes in experiencing losses.

Those most in need of the savings that would come from refinancing their mortgage at today’s lower rates are the homeowners least likely to get approved for new loans.

Harsh warnings from Capitol Hill Republicans notwithstanding, the Fed launches its latest round of monetary jujitsu. The move may make fat bank profits more elusive.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt tells a congressional committee he learned the lessons of the Microsoft saga. “We live in a different world today, and the open Internet is the ultimate level playing field,” Time quotes him as saying.

Revenue at the New York Times Co. is heading south, both in print and online.

EDUCATION

MCAS scores improve in underperforming schools in Holyoke and Springfield.

A Harwich first-grader, who isn’t thrilled with the concept of first grade, leaves school and spends more than two hours walking the four miles to get back home before anyone notices that he wasn’t there.

TRANSPORTATION

A new report is sounding a familiar warning: The state’s transportation infrastructure is degrading, and in desperate need of new revenue. The Senate chairman of the Legislature’s transportation committee, Tom McGee of Lynn, says the report is right, but offers no clue as to how lawmakers might tackle the situation.

A Seekonk lawmaker wants to end free MBTA rides for T employees and retirees.

Cape Rail officials, who operate commercial rail service in the southeast region, met with New Bedford officials about expanding service and developing land along the line. Earlier, the company announced it would launch a “dinner train” out of Fall River as it looks to expand its rail opportunities while plans move forward for a commuter rail line.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Another day, another complaint about potential noise pollution from wind turbines. Bristol Community College in Fall River is planning to build a 342-foot wind turbine and neighbors want to know what’s in it for them besides noise and visual blight.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Troy Davis, a Georgia man who was convicted of killing an off-duty police officer, was executed last night after the Supreme Court refused an 11-hour petition for a stay. His case had drawn attention worldwide, with supporters saying there were serious questions about his guilt.

A Brookline doctor who operated more than 30 drug treatment clinics around the state pleaded not guilty to Medicaid fraud yesterday. Prosecutors say Dr. Punyamurtula Kishore bribed owners of sober houses to send residents to his clinics for urine screenings.

Why have crime rates been dropping during an economic downturn that has seen a huge increase in unemployment?  James Q. Wilson, coauthor of the famous 1982 “Broken Windows” article (and theory), offers some possible explanations in City Journal.

Whitey Bulger gets the Seinfeld treatment.

MEDIA

Nieman Reports takes the pulse of The Root, a daily black national magazine.

 

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