POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

Voter Turnout

by David Trumbull

June 19, 2009

Congratulations are in order to Aaron Michlewitz. He moved residents of the North End, Waterfront, Beacon Hill, Downtown, Chinatown, Bay Village, South End, and Roxbury to go out and vote this past Tuesday. Those voters, by a very large margin, elected him to be the new Representative of the Third Suffolk District in the General Court of Massachusetts.

Turn out was low, very low, but that is not a reflection on Mr. Michlewitz. All the candidates worked hard to attract voter attention. Local and even Boston regional print, radio, television, and internet news outlets covered the race. Local civic groups held candidate nights. However, all that attention directed at the race by a few failed to generate interest on the part of the many. Out of 28,686 registered voters the number who voted were 2,747. That’s a 9.59 percent turnout rate.

Based on past elections I had predicted 15 percent turnout, but we failed to get to even that low number—why?

First off we should note that the voter turnout was probably greater than the ten percent the City of Boston Election Department statistics indicate. That is so because the total number of registered voters includes many “inactive” voters, that is, persons who have not voted in recent elections and have not responded to the annual city census. My experience in working with voter lists is that a very high percentage of those “inactive” voters are in fact, not potential voters because they have moved out of the district or died but their names have not yet been purged from the list. In the Third Suffolk District about one-quarter of all registered voters are inactive. Take them out of the universe of potential voters and the turnout rate for 2,747 actual votes cast is 12.77 percent—still awfully low.

Close to 90 percent of the potential voters didn’t vote. Did they not know there was an election? Did they not care who will represent them? Did they find all three candidates acceptable and so didn’t care which one won? Did they find all three candidates unacceptable and so withheld their vote from all? Over the next few months I’ll be studying this question of low voter turnout. If you have stuck with the column to the end you must be one of the few with an interest in local politics, I invite you to join me this study. I can be reached at

[David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee. Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.]