Voters were lining up out the doors at many Greater Boston polling stations in the opening hours of election day 2006 in what voting analysts said may be shaping up as a record-breaking day at the polls in Massachusetts.
With the state poised to elect either its first African American or its first female governor, analysts said more voters may cast their ballots today than in any past gubernatorial election, surpassing the 2.4 million who voted in the hotly contested 1990 race won by Republican Bill Weld over Democrat John Silber.
"We're making history right here," said Alicia Hopkins, a campaign volunteer for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick as she stood outside the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts in Roxbury where half a dozen people were waiting for ballots. By 8:15 a.m., poll workers said nearly 10 percent of the precinct's eligible voters had already cast their ballots, an extraordinary percentage for so early in the day.
There were reports of unusually large turnout in numerous locations, from Bedford High School in the suburbs to a polling station on Tremont Street in the South End, where voters at 7 a.m. faced a 20-minute wait to receive a ballot. At the polling station in Jamaica Plain's Brookside Community Health Center -- where Patrick signs heavily outnumbered those of his Republican opponent, Kerry Healey -- about 12 percent of the precinct's 854 voters cast ballots by 9 a.m., election officials said.
"I want to see change and that's why I voted for Patrick," explained Matthew Doherty as he left the health center.
Outside the Joseph P. Manning School in Jamaica Plain, which had the highest turnout in the city for the September primary, a Healey supporter said it's too soon to count the lieutenant governor out.
"I'd like to keep some of my money," said Eva Calisi, a registered Democrat who nonetheless voted for Healey. "I like what she's going to do for me."
The 2006 election is somewhat similar to 2002, when 2.2 million of the state's 4 million voters turned out to elect newcomer Mitt Romney, the Republican, over Democrat Shannon O'Brien, but analysts say there are at least two factors likely to boost turnout this time. Patrick's sophisticated get-out-the-vote effort fueled the biggest primary election turnout since 1990, they said, and a record $43 million was spent on the campaign, which saturated the airwaves with advertising.
Democratic dominance in congressional and most state legislative races across the state as well as Patrick's double-digit lead in the polls could rob the election of some of its drama, something that Patrick strategists fear could lead some of their backers to stay home. But, in the first two hours of the election, that was not in evidence.
"It does look like people are coming out," said Brian McNiff, spokesman for Secretary of State William Galvin, who said nearly 50 people voted at his voting station in Melrose in the first 15 minutes after the polls opened at 7 a.m. "It's possible we'll top the 1990 vote, but it's way too early to tell."
Even if the number of voters exceeds the 1990 total, it is unlikely to top the all-time record for voter turnout by percentage. In 1970, when then Boston Mayor Kevin White was defeated by Republican Frank Sargent, 76 percent of the state's 2.6 million voters cast a ballot. Today's percentage turnout is likely to be closer to 60 percent.