Election officials predict low turnout for local races across Massachusetts on Tuesday

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A voter places an election ballot in a ballot drop-off box in Somerville. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A voter places an election ballot in a ballot drop-off box in Somerville. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Voters in 55 communities across Massachusetts are slated to take part in municipal elections Tuesday.

But election officials say enthusiasm in the local races, especially outside of Boston, is down considerably from a year ago, when the pitched battle between Donald Trump and Joe Biden drove record numbers of voters to the polls.

"I think it'll be a fairly low turnout," said Cynthia Scrivani, Brockton's election chief. "I'm predicting roughly about 18%, which is rather low and dismal."

Scrivani said it's sad, but there is always far less interest in municipal elections than presidential races.

"Your local officials are the officials that you can actually talk to and get changes done in your neighborhood," Scrivani said. "So it's very disheartening to see that people don't come out to vote for their local officials."

Local elections also draw far less interest in Lynn. Nearly two-thirds of Lynn voters turned out for the 2020 election. But municipal elections usually draw less than half that amount. And this year, just 3% of registered voters have requested vote-by-mail ballots, even though incumbent Mayor Tom McGee is stepping down.

One reason for the lower turnout is that local elections are usually held separately from national and state elections, which have better known candidates. Local campaigns also have less money.

"There's a lot less ability of candidates at the local level to get people in the field to remind people about when the elections are going to occur to try to mobilize voters," said Jesse Rhodes, a political science professor at UMass-Amherst. "All of this combines to mean that ... when the elections are held off cycle, people are less likely to be fired up and mobilized and energized about those contests."

Some say another reason for the tepid interest is a lack of local media coverage.

The biggest news organizations in the region have focused most of their attention on the race for mayor in Boston. And many local outlets have limited resources, forcing candidates to scramble for attention.

Other local newspapers have disappeared altogether. The chain that owns Somerville's main weekly newspaper closed its Somerville office five years ago and reduced its staff.

That's prompted candidates to look for other ways to reach voters.

In Somerville, both candidates vying to succeed longtime mayor Joe Curtatone — city councilors Will Mbah and Katjana Ballantyne — recorded statements for Somerville's local public access television channel.

Kat Powers co-founded a nonprofit, the Somerville Media Fund, to help reinvigorate local journalism in the city and help provide better coverage of future elections.

"We know that there is a news desert forming here in Somerville," said Powers, executive director of the Somerville Media Center, which operates Somerville Community Access Television and helped sponsored debates during the election.

Powers said she hopes that providing more local journalism will lead to a more informed electorate and more exciting elections in future years.

In the meantime, voters can still do their part this year. Most polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

This segment aired on November 1, 2021.


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Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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