by David Trumbull
It looks like Salvatore LaMattina, Boston City Councillor for District One, which covers Charlestown, East Boston, the North End, Downtown, and part of Beacon Hill, will not be the next Suffolk County Register of Probate. Unofficial results show him in second place, with 49 percent of the vote in the Democratic Primary. It was close, but Patricia Campatelli leads by over 600 votes, out of about 30 thousand votes cast for that office, and the official results are unlikely to change that significantly. Turnout was low, with 7.5 percent of the 413,927 registered voters actually voting in this race. Ms. Campatelli, a resident of East Boston, will face no Republican opposition in November. If past experience is a guide, it is safe to assume that Ms. Campatelli will hold that position until she chooses to depart. As we know, Suffolk County voters practically never turn out an incumbent Democrat. Well, that's the voters' prerogative, and Ms. Campatelli won, so I say, Congratulations to her. My analysis that follows is not meant in anyway to take away from her victory, however, I think citizens in Suffolk County should consider this latest, in a continuing trend, of a very small number of citizens deciding who will hold public office.
Voter turnout is a funny thing. One often hears people say that a single vote doesn't matter. Yet voter behavior suggests that many voters don't understand just how their votes count. Just to be clear, every vote matters. Even if you take a ballot and return it blank, that is recorded as a vote -- it is a message to the candidates that you bothered to go to the polling place and vote even though there was no one on the ballot that you approved of, either because you disapproved, or perhaps simply didn't know enough about them to have an opinion. However, it is also true that your vote matters more when it is more likely to determine the outcome. Ironically, the people who say "my vote doesn't matter" are the same ones who skip contests where their votes matter a great deal but participate in contest where their votes matter little, or not at all.
Take the recent primary (please). Overall turnout for the September 6th primaries was 11 percent across Suffolk County, which is made up of the cities of Boston, Chelsea, and Revere, and the town of Winthrop. But turnout varied from race to race. Nine percent of the registered voters cast a ballot for either incumbent U.S. Senator Scott P. Brown, a Republican, or his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth A. Warren. Perhaps they wanted to make an early show of support for a candidate prior to the November final election. Perhaps the organizations of both campaigns used the primary as a "dry-run" of the get-out-the-vote program then plan for November. Who knows? But there is one thing we can say with certainty: none of those votes counted in the slightest in determining the result as, in both cases, there was only one name on the ballot. 36,786 persons voted in the primaries for U.S. Senator, 32,840 in the Democratic Primary alone. Now compare that to the Campatelli/LaMattina race for Register of Probate. 30,919 persons voted in that race, a race where every vote truly mattered, as the winner will be the next Register of Probate and it was a very tight race. Nearly six thousand more people cast "practice" votes for a Senatorial candidate who would have won even if all the voters stayed home than cast votes in a race where their votes would have made a difference.
Along with the Register of Probate contest there were two Clerk of Courts positions filled in this Democratic Primary (because no Republican is running in the November final election). Maura A. Hennigan won for Clerk of Courts (Criminal) and Michael J. Donovan for Clerk of Courts (Civil). In none of these races did the winning candidate win the suffrages of more than 5 percent of the registered voters. Again, I have nothing against these particular politicians. They won and are to be congratulated. However, am I the only one who thinks that is not good for the long-term health of our Democracy when important offices are filled by candidates who enjoy the active support of merely 5 percent of the registered voters?