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Massachusetts may break turnout record

At the Metropolitan Baptist Church, Colletta Mills (center) and her 13-month-old son Kayden are among the voters in the basement polling site.
At the Metropolitan Baptist Church, Colletta Mills (center) and her 13-month-old son Kayden are among the voters in the basement polling site. (Globe Staff Photo / Suzanne Kreiter)

More Massachusetts residents likely will have voted today than in any gubernatorial election in state history, based on numbers across the state, as voters from Boston to Springfield turned out in unexpectedly large numbers to elect either the state's first African-American or first woman chief executive.

Election officials in a number of communities said turnout may surpass the previous record for a nonpresidential election of 2.4 million in 1990 when Republican William Weld defeated Democrat John Silber to usher in 16 years of GOP control of the governor's office.

Today in Boston, 87,748 people had voted by 3 p.m. -- roughly the halfway point in voting -- putting the city on a pace to eclipse the 159,889 who voted in 1990. Numerous cities and town such as Waltham and Worcester also reported near-record turnouts by late afternoon.

The bumper crop of voters is largely a reflection of interest in the gubernatorial race between Democrat Deval Patrick and his Republican opponent Kerry Healey since few other statewide races, including the race for the US Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy, are seen as close. Patrick, whose get-out-the-vote effort brought hundreds of thousands of new voters into the September primary, held a double-digit lead over Healey in recent polls, but Healey spent millions of her own money in a sometimes-bitter attempt to close the gap.

"This particular election has the voters very excited," said Denise Jordan, chairman of Springfield's election commission, predicting that 60 percent of the city's 83,000 registered voters would turn out. "People want to be a part of history."

Officials at MassVOTE, a nonpartisan group that promotes voting, predicted that the number of voters will break the 1990 gubernatorial turnout record, though with an important caveat: there are 800,000 more voters today than in 1990 because of an easing of voter registration procedures.

Nearly 75 percent of the eligible voters came out in 1990, while today's turnout is likely to be closer to 65 percent. Still, MassVOTE officials said they were impressed with the surge of voter interest.

"It's going to be neck and neck ... but I feel like we're going to beat the record" from 1990, said MassVOTE executive director Avi Green. "I am psyched."

Election officials across the state said they were surprised and pleased by the big turnout. In the bedroom community of Burlington, a little more than half of the city's 14,180 voters had cast ballots by 5 p.m., putting the town on a pace to eclipse the total number of ballots cast in 1990.

"I'm thinking we're probably going to hit 75 percent by the end of the day," said Burlington town clerk Jane Chew, representing nearly 1,000 more votes cast than in the 1990 election. "As long as the rain holds off, everybody will be fine."

A spokesman for Secretary of State William Galvin declined to predict a record turn-out statewide based on the vote through late afternoon.

"The turnout will pass 2002, but by how much depends on what the after-work surge is like," said the spokesman, Brian McNiff.

The 2006 election is similar to 2002, when 2.2 million of the state's 4 million voters turned out to elect newcomer Romney, but analysts say at least two factors boosted turnout much higher: First, Patrick's sophisticated get-out-the-vote effort, which resulted in the biggest primary election turnout since 1990, and a record $43 million spent on the campaign, which saturated the airwaves with advertising.

In Plymouth, one of the suburban towns that Kerry Healey had targeted as a possible stronghold, election officials predicted a high turnout, but not necessarily a Healey triumph. Town clerk Laurence Pizer said that local voters seemed turned off by the strong negative tone of her campaign, saying, "People were truly offended by that."

Likewise, in Medford, resident Luis Franco said he's voted for Republicans in past gubernatorial races, but he voted for Deval Patrick today. "I think the Republican Party has lost touch with reality," said Franco, a hotel worker and unenrolled voter. "I voted mostly, hopefully, for a change."

Even if the number of voters exceeds the 1990 total, it is unlikely to top the modern record for turnout by percentage. In 1970, when Boston Mayor Kevin White was defeated by Republican Frank Sargent, 76 percent of the 2.6 million voters cast a ballot. In 1960, when Massachusetts governors were still elected to two-year terms, more than 90 percent of voters turned out, but that had more to do with the fact that John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts was running for president that year.

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