Local Issues May Drive Turnout For Mass. U.S. Senate Primaries in Berkshires

Apr 29, 2013

It appears that interest for Massachusetts’ U.S. Senate primary election tomorrow is low, particularly for cities and towns in the westernmost part of the commonwealth.

Credit masonvotes Flickr

U.S. Representatives Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch are battling for their party’s nomination in the Democratic primary in the race to replace now-Secretary of State John Kerry. On the Republican side, it’s a three-way race between former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, Cohasset businessman Gabriel Gomez, and state Representative Daniel Winslow. And while there’s a diverse pool of candidates with a range of different backgrounds, voters in the western parts of the state do not appear to be showing much interest.

Bob Bence, a professor of political science and public policy at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, said that he believes that voters will likely turn out in larger numbers for a typical primary election due to many of the local contests that will also be held at the ballot box.

And Bence’s assumption that local issues will determine the turnout at the polls is echoed by others.

Barbara Suriner, town clerk in Dalton, said that there’s been a high interest in a competitive selectmen’s race, but not so much when it comes to the senate primaries.

“I’ve had a lot of people coming in doing absentee ballots saying they don’t really know that’s running that well so I really think the interest is not going be that high on that election,” said Suriner.

North Adams City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau said that primary turnout is generally far lower than in a general election.

“Normally our primaries are slow, very slow,” said Gomeau.

In addition to the senate primary, North Adams is holding its own election, where voters will be asked to determine the future of the plan to renovate the Conte Middle School, a project with a price tag of $29.7 million.

While she believes interest is higher in the local election over the state, Gomeau noted that because voters in North Adams will be have to check in for both, it could have an influence on the number of voters in the primary.

Republican candidate Gabriel Gomez visited with voters in Lee and Pittsfield earlier this month, while Democrats Stephen Lynch and Edward Markey have made only a handful of stops. But the gatherings have been small, and no large campaign rallies have been held.

Professor Bob Bence said that candidates may not schedule large campaign events in an area with a lower population of voters than other regions of the state.

“Because…turnout is so low normally in primaries…to be able to mobilize even a handful of passionate supporters may make the difference,” said Bence.

But state Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli, one of the four Democrats representing Berkshire County at the statehouse, said that he’s been frustrated by the lack of contact the candidates have made with voters in the Berkshires.

“This should be a very high profile, very elite group of people running, and the people in the Berkshires should be treated just as equally and just as importantly as people in Boston,” said Pignatelli.

Unenrolled voters can vote in either primary. The general election is set for June 25th.