Voter Turnout Drops

Pundits blame low council visibility, weak issues

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David R. Fields

Cambridge school committee and city council supporters campaign outside City Hall.

A mere 17,684 Cambridge residents—roughly 31 percent of those registered— came out to vote yesterday for what was one of the lowest voter turnouts on record in recent years, second only to the 17,229 votes cast in the 1997 election.

“This is very close to what it was in 1997,” said Teresa S. Neighbor, executive director of the Cambridge Election Commission. “This is actually better than what we thought it would be.”

Political observers and voters blamed low-key City Council campaigns, a lack of divisive issues and a focus on national politics in the wake of Sept. 11 for the low voter turnout.

“There just haven’t been dramatic issues in this campaign,” local political pundit Glenn S. Koocher `71 said.

Some had hoped that a ballot referendum on the Community Preservation Act might draw more voters to the polls.

But Koocher said he didn’t think Question 1 was a factor.

“I don’t think anyone goes to the polls to vote on a referendum—they go to vote for their favorite City Council candidate,” Koocher said.

Still, some voters, like Suzanne Rivitz, came out to show their support for the ballot question, which ultimately passed by a substantial margin.

“We need the Community Preservation Act because I think it’s an important initiative,” she said.

Yesterday was also a slow day for polling sites around Harvard.

At an empty Quincy House polling site, one official said it had been a relatively quiet day, with no more than 20 students showing up to cast their ballots.

Roughly 360 voters turned out at the Garden Street polling site yesterday, about 20 of whom were registered as residents of Harvard Yard.

John J. Immel, Jr. `96, a second-year student at the Law School, pointed to a lack of energy in the City Council campaigns.

“There wasn’t a large competition on issues,” he said. “That really helps people get reelected.”

For Liz W. Adams, a mother of two, improvement of the public schools system and lowering housing costs were two concerns that brought her to the polls.

Adams said she brought her two children to the polling site to expose them to the voting process.

“I rememer my dad taking me into the voting booth and pulling the levers when I was a child,” she said.

Several voters said another possible explanation for the low turnout was apathy following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“Sept. 11 dampened people’s spirits.,” Immel said. “People are working for their businesses instead of being involved in local politics.”

—Staff writer Kate L. Rakoczy can be reached at rakoczy@fas.harvard.edu.