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Special election turnout only 27 percent across the state of Massachusetts

Yawu Miller | 7/11/2013, 8:49 a.m.

The special election held to fill the US Senate seat formerly held by Secretary of State John Kerry was by all accounts uninspiring, and as such, held few surprises.

Turnout on the sweltering June day was dismally low. And in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, it was no surprise that Democratic Congressman Edward Markey won handily, beating businessman Gabriel Gomez with 55 percent of the vote.

Black voters, as expected, voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic nominee, with more than 90 percent of voters backing Markey in Boston’s predominantly black wards and precincts.

Perhaps the only surprising news coming out of the election was that the state’s Latino communities resoundingly rejected Gomez, who is Republican, backing Markey two-to-one.

“Latino voters identified strongly as Democrats,” said Calvin Feliciano, a political organizer with Service Employees International Union Local 1199 who coordinated statewide get-out-the-vote efforts.

“Our organizers went out ready to have a conversation with voters, but they didn’t have to. The voters said ‘he shares a last name with us and nothing else.’”

The Latino vote helped boost Markey in Massachusetts cities like Lynn, Springfield and Worcester where conservative white voters could have tipped the balance toward Gomez. In Lawrence, where the majority of voters are Latino, Markey won with 79 percent of the vote.

Boston voters backed Markey by a wide margin, with 76 percent of the vote. The heavily black and Latino precincts in Roxbury, Dorchester balanced out the more conservative white precincts in South Boston, Neponset and Cedar Grove, several of which Gomez won.

A nonpartisan coalition of nonprofit organizations worked to boost turnout in the city’s black, Latino and Asian communities. Their efforts may have been hampered by the summer heat and a high number of special elections in the last year to fill offices vacated in mid term. Turnout citywide was just 25 percent.

“What’s really disappointing is that on the same day people went to vote here, the Supreme Court repealed parts of the Voting Rights Act,” said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, executive director of Mass VOTE, the nonprofit with coordinated the nonprofit get-out-the-the-vote efforts in Boston.

Crawford said the voter fatigue Boston is facing now could have a negative effect on the municipal preliminary election in September, where 12 candidates are vying for mayor, 19 for at-large City Council and another 26 for district seats.

Statewide turnout was 27 percent, half the 54 percent turnout of the 2010 election to fill the Senate seat vacated when US Sen. Edward Kennedy passed away.

In addition to the mayoral and city council races in Boston, Massachusetts voters will also face special elections to fill the Congressional seat vacated by Markey and the 12th Suffolk District House seat vacated by Linda Dorcena Forry, who was elected Senator last month.