Ballot Question 9--the controversial proposal to abolish rent control in Massachusetts--drew an estimated 70 percent of Cantabrigians to the polls yesterday, according to officials of the city's Election Commission.
"It was a lot heavier than what I thought [it would be," said election commissioner Artis B. Spears last night "Question 9--that's what brought them out."
Although many officials had expected a strong opposition to rent control among residents of Cambridge--which has much tenanted property--the 'no's to Question Nine were shockingly low, according to results at 1 a.m.
With 29 of Cambridge's 42 precincts counted, only 57 percent of voters opposed Question Nine.
"I'm surprised," former Cambridge mayor Alice Wolf said last night. "'No' on the [Question Nine] vote is not as high as I expected."
There were few other surprises in the way Cambridge residents voted yesterday. By 1 a.m., incumbent U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy '54-'56 was beating challenger W. Mitt Romney in Cambridge results with 79 to 20 percent of the vote.
Governor William F. Weld '66--who won more than two-thirds of the state's overall vote--lagged behind Mark Roosevelt '78 by two percentage points in Cambridge's polls at 1 a.m.
"I expected Kennedy to cream Romney, and that's what happened," Deputy City Manager Richard C. Rossi said.
Officials said they thought the good weather helped, but that ballot questions were the main reason so many voters turned out this year.
"We had thousands of brand new voters," said Thomas C. Cangiamila, an office assistant at the Election Commission. "People who never voted before were coming out of the wood-work."
But as usual, student voters came out in paltry numbers.
"The turnout seemed to be lightest in student areas," said election commissioner Thomas J. Hartnett. "I would have thought that with the U.S. senatorship at stake, they would have come out in huge numbers."
At the Quincy House polling site, for example, nly 252 voters showed up.
Election officials said that for the most part the elections went "very smoothly."
"It was better than the primary, which was chaos," Cangiamila said. "I expected it to be a lot worse."
Even the fact that there were nine questions on the ballot--which typically confuses voters--did not seem to be a problem, officials said. Voters seemed prepared to vote on the question issues, they added.
"I was surprised how organized they were," said Cambridge police officer Clara Scott after she dropped off ballots at the Election Commission.
But Cangiamila said there were more complaints than usual this year about illegal campaigning near the polls, because Question 9 made people in Cambridge "very anxious" about the election.
Election officials and police officers, bringing boxes of ballots from different precincts, began arriving at the commission's office in Cambridge's Police Department after polls closed at 8 p.m.
But although the last box of ballots came in at 10:40 p.m., to the cheers of the staff, the results were tabulated slowly throughout the night and into the morning.
The reason, officials said, was that Cambridge's vote counting is not computerized, as in many other cities.
Wolf said that if they had computers, "by [10 p.m.] we would have known all the results."
For 12 years, Harvard's Office of Information Technology (OIT) had allowed Cambridge to use its computers to tabulate election results. But because of "space needs," the commission could not continue using their facilities this year, Bonislawski said.
"They were terrific," Wolf said. "If there's a way to have it done at Harvard again, we would like to see it happen."