A lack of interest, time kept many away

Contest marked by low turnout

By David Abel
Globe Staff / December 9, 2009

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Some forgot. Others said they were too busy or couldn’t make up their minds. And then there were those who said they could not be less interested.

A sampling of registered voters in Boston yesterday provided a number of reasons for why they failed to cast ballots in the special primary election to fill the US Senate seat left vacant by the late Edward M. Kennedy.

On her day off from her job as a nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Jessica Freeman spent the early afternoon walking her pug Mabel in the Public Garden.

Was she voting?

“I haven’t had the time to educate myself,’’ said Freeman, 28, who lives on Beacon Hill. “Maybe I should be more interested, because I’m in health care,’’ a key campaign issue.

Such reasons helped explain a low turnout.

Secretary of State William F. Galvin projected that about 600,000 voters, out of 4.1 million eligible, cast ballots in the off-season primary for the four Democrats and two Republicans. In Boston, 63,495 out of 358,105 registered voters, or 17.7 percent, voted.

Galvin said final turnout numbers would not be available until today.

In a telephone interview, Galvin said turnout was even lower elsewhere in the state. After the polls closed, turnouts were recorded at 13 percent in Fall River, 15 percent in Worcester, and 23.3 percent in Quincy.

“The low turnout is not unexpected,’’ he said, noting the unusual special election made it unlikely voters would turn out in large numbers.

Timothy Costello, 23, who is registered to vote in Rockland, was taking a break from a demolition job in the South End when he acknowledged not knowing the names of any of the candidates. “I just haven’t had any time,’’ he said. “It’s an important election. Maybe I should have made the time.’’

Marc Gillen, a colleague also on break, listed the names of each candidate, and cited some of their differences. He knew that Attorney General Martha Coakley had boasted about fighting Wall Street and that US Representative Michael E. Capuano has talked about keeping constituents working. But he wasn’t registered to vote.

“It’s good to pay attention, but I guess it’s time to register to vote,’’ said Gillen, 23, of Quincy.

As she walked past a polling place at the State House to have her boots repaired by a nearby cobbler, Rachel Daugherty blamed her apathy on her upbringing in Texas.

“I just haven’t taken an interest in local politics,’’ said Daugherty, 27, who has lived in Jamaica Plain for three years and is registered to vote there. “In general, I’m very cynical about politicians.’’

Gina DiMeo also pleaded ignorance and worried about making a bad decision. The 31-year-old paralegal from Andover said she didn’t know anything about the candidates.

“If I don’t know the differences between them, and I’m just picking randomly, how do I know I’m not making the wrong choice?’’ she said.

Others who had not voted vowed to make it to the polls before they closed.

“If we want the right to complain, we have to vote,’’ said the Rev. Stephen Kendrick, 55, of First Church in Boston.

Others said they were still trying to make up their minds.

“I’m not sure who I’ll vote for, but I think I’ll choose the person who is the biggest underdog,’’ said Yanni Poulakos, 28, near his apartment on Beacon Hill. “That’s a way to make my vote count.’’

Eileen McKendry, 60, a consultant, blamed her failure to vote on not owning a television set. She had no idea who was running, but felt guilty for not taking the time to learn more.

“Politics doesn’t consume me,’’ she said.

David Abel can be reached at