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Fatigued voters turn out in low numbers

It was a slow day at the polls in Malden, as only 112 people had voted at the Ward 2 Precinct 1 location as of 11 a.m. Turnout was low at most sites.

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

It was a slow day at the polls in Malden, as only 112 people had voted at the Ward 2 Precinct 1 location as of 11 a.m. Turnout was low at most sites.

On a normal Election Day, the phones in Lawrence City Hall are ringing away with questions about the polls.

On Tuesday, crickets.

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“It’s like there’s no election at all,” said Richard Reyes, senior clerk in the city’s Election Division. “A lot of people have no idea.”

Across the state, vote turnout for the US Senate primary was consistently low, a display of disinterest that caught even veteran election officials by surprise.

“It’s the lowest I can remember,” said Gladys Oyola, election commissioner in Springfield. “If we break the double-digit mark, I’d be stunned.”

Statewide figures were not available for the special election, but many towns and cities reported turnout well below 15 percent, and in some cases far lower.

In Boston, 17.3 percent of voters cast ballots, according to the city’s website. By contrast, nearly 19 percent of Boston voters turned out for another special election primary in 2009, when Scott Brown and Martha Coakley scored victories in a US Senate contest.

‘I think people have other stuff on their minds other than this.’

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Voters and election officials offered a range of reasons so many voters stayed home. The unusual timing of the spring election caught many people off guard, particularly after a campaign that struggled to capture public attention. After the ­Boston Marathon bombings, the election fell further off the public radar.

“It sucked all the news out,” said Joe Kaplan of the Election Commission in Lowell, where turnout was struggling to reach 10 percent of registered voters. “I’m not surprised.”

But most said that with the state holding its third Senate election within four years, plus a presidential race, voters were just worn out.

“There’s been one election after another,” said Maria Tomasia, who heads up the Elections Board in New ­Bedford. “I think it’s a little too much.”

Just 7 percent of registered voters in that coastal city would cast ballots, she estimated. “It’s basically just the diehards.”

At elementary schools in Winchester, poll workers said that turnout reminded them of a recent town election, when many of the candidates ran unopposed.

William F. Galvin, the ­Massachusetts secretary of state, estimated Tuesday afternoon that statewide turnout would wind up somewhere between 10 and 15 percent. By midafternoon, Brockton was at 7 percent, Framingham and Waltham had reached 8 percent, and Cambridge had topped 10 percent.

Galvin said several factors relegated the race to the back burner: a harsh winter, the announce­ment that Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston would not run, and most of all, the deadly bombings.

“Whatever momentum it ­ever had, it pretty much evaporated,” Galvin said.

That was on sharp display in Boston.

At Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy in Hyde Park, where people waited in line for hours to cast their vote in ­November, the sidewalk was empty at midmorning. Parking was plentiful.

“I think people have other stuff on their minds other than this,’’ said George Murray, 68.

Many voters acknowledged that the Senate race was something of a sleeper. But that did not mean it was not important.

“I don’t care what kind of day it is, it’s voting day,” said ­Julia Gannon, 72. “You vote.”

In the South End, minutes passed between departing voters, and inside the gymnasium at Cathedral High School, poll workers outnumbered voters.

“It’s surprising to see how empty the polling places are,” said Mark Pasnik, 42. “Well, maybe not surprising, but sad.”

Jane Cooper Brayton, 77, ­lamented the low turnout and said the public was “over­campaigned.”

“I think everybody is so ­exhausted,” she said.

Philippe Pavillard, 45, who works at Boston University, ­admitted that he “wasn’t that interested.” Still, it was good to vote, he said.

Outside the Nazzaro Community Center in Boston’s North End, it was hard to tell the polls were open. No supporters were gathered, and there were no candidate signs posted.

“This is slow,” one poll worker said.

Just before 1 p.m., two men arrived to collect signatures for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, a mayoral candidate. Hopefully, things would pick up, they said. There was another election to be run.

Meghan Irons of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents ­Johanna Kaiser, Jeremy C. Fox, and Patrick D. Rosso contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@­globe.com. Follow him on ­Twitter @globepete.
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