Neglected urban centers held the winning key for Coakley

I have lived in Boston since 1983. Campaigns and election days are my favorite sport. I can’t help myself. It’s fun to pay attention to the banter, debates, and the way voters in this great city get engaged in elections. To me, it’s better than the World Series and the Super Bowl combined. But this time around, I noticed less attention being paid to the electorate of the City of Boston by both candidates in the final run for the U.S. Senate seat once held by Ted Kennedy and occupied since his death by Paul Kirk.

I fell asleep watching the results Tuesday night realizing that Coakley had lost. As I dreamt throughout the night, I seemed fixated on the lack of attention that had been paid to the city’s voters. Upon waking, I wondered what the voter turnout was in Boston and other urban centers.

That morning my husband and I reviewed our impressions. We had seen very little enthusiasm at the city polling sites that we frequent on typical election days. When we voted at the Roslindale Public Library, we saw no one from either Brown’s or Coakley’s campaigns and only a single lonely Coakley sign. At my place of employment in Dorchester, where two polling places are located, again, no people campaigning and no signs up for Brown or Coakley. My husband, his pick-up truck plastered with Coakley signs, spent his day driving to various other sites and he reported difficulty finding many of them due either to the lack of campaign personnel or signage. I wondered what this lack of attention to the election in the city by the candidates meant for the final tally, and found my answer in the election department’s website’s statistics:

Across the city, of a possible 358,882 votes, only 153,460 people voted, or 43 percent. Where were the other 205,422? While the 43 percent who voted was still a better turnout than in November’s mayoral election, when 32 percent of registered voters went to the polls, both were dwarfed in turnout by the November 2008 presidential election when 62 percent of eligible Boston voters participated.
A quick look at the websites of the state’s cities showed what I expected: The lowest turnouts were mostly in lower-income, non-white urban centers like Lawrence (25 percent), Chelsea (32), Springfield (34), Holyoke + Southbridge (35), New Bedford (36), Worcester + Fall River (37), Lynn (38), and Lowell (39).

I realize that it was to the Republican’s advantage to steer clear of any focus on urban areas because they tend to lean toward the Democratic Party. And I could see that the failure to focus on Boston and other cities by the Coakley camp was a costly mistake. Robocalls do not replace people on the ground visiting the neighborhoods and knocking on doors.

My conclusion: The low voter turnout in all the urban nonwhite centers in the state cost the Democrat Coakley the Senate seat. So there is a great lesson to be learned from this analysis: Voters of every urban center should step outside of the political machines and realize that each and every vote counts. I live in a two-language household where we speak English and Spanish. “Vote” is spelled the same way in each tongue. This is when I have to agree with the sports ads – Just Do It! Vote! The power each of us squanders by not voting is only our own.

Melida Arredondo is a long time political activist in the City of Boston and has worked in Upham's Corner, Dorchester for the past nine years.