William Galvin, the secretary of the Commonwealth, is once again predicting an anemic turnout for today’s state primary election. On Tuesday, as is his practice, Galvin sought to call attention to the election by inviting reporters to a news conference at which he predicted that just 8-10 percent would vote today.
“The real story here in strip sheets is lack of challengers, the lack of candidates,” Galvin told reporters holding up a pair of sample ballots, according to Politico Massachusetts, “There really isn’t much out there, so there’s no reason to come out.”
The Labor Day holiday prompted Galvin and other state leaders to okay a move from Tuesday to Thursday in hopes that the extra two days after a holiday weekend might bring an additional bump in turnout.
Galvin’s right that more candidates— meaning more challengers— might help bring out more voters. But another reason why Boston voters are likely to stay away from the polls in droves is that they haven’t been given much information about the races that are competitive. That’s been particularly striking in the case of the three-way race for the 12th Suffolk district, in which incumbent Rep. Dan Cullinane is facing a challenge from two Democrats, Jovan Lacet and Carlotta Williams.
The Reporter has sought to bring our readers some information about this contest because — whether or not the challengers are “viable” — there should always be some level of scrutiny given to those seeking to represent our community in public office. In this instance, the Reporter did this by asking candidates in the 12th Suffolk (and in the 5th, where incumbent Rep. Carvalho also faces a single challenger today) to respond to detailed questionnaires about their qualifications, governing style, and policy stances. Our reporter compiled a story based on their answers and we posted the completed questionnaires online for readers to digest.
In addition, we published an article that specifically examined the circumstances around Jovan Lacet’s dismissal from his job as a Boston Police officer back in 2004. That story prompted significant push-back from Lacet and his supporters— who complained that the Reporter deliberately sought to paint him in a negative light. (We disagree with that assessment, of course.)
While it should be noted that the Bay State Banner and Neighborhood Network News both sought to bring some attention to the race by interviewing candidates, it is striking that the city’s daily newspapers did not cover this House race in any way. Nor did other news organization that purport to cover city politics devote any resources to covering the contest. They did not endorse a candidate; they did not interview a candidate; the Globe did not even list this three-way House race in a summary of contests on the Boston ballot that was presented to readers this week.
These sins of omission send the wrong message to voters, incumbents, and would-be candidates: That Boston seats in the Legislature are unimportant. It makes it harder to hold our elected leaders accountable when they operate under the assumption that larger media outlets will pay them no mind.
Such a lack of scrutiny — whether deliberate or not—reinforces a cynical view of government: That incumbents are unbeatable; that only “open” seats are really ever in play; that those with the best-financed operations will win by default; that certain communities don’t vote anyway.
Elections aren’t just about picking an individual to lead. They give us an opportunity to think collectively about what sort of community we want to work to build, and to weigh competing ideas about how that might work better or, at least, differently. They should prompt candidates— whether veteran office-holders or first-timers— to bring their “A” game, to hustle and impress.
A first-class city like ours should have more coverage of competitive races, not less. There’s plenty of blame to go around for the lack of voter interest in state and local politics, and an honest assessment of the situation has to include media that are actively undermining their civic duty by looking the other way.