Turnout appeared to be light this morning as voters headed to the polls in chilly, bright weather to cast ballots in the preliminary mayoral election.
Today’s election will winnow the field of 12 mayoral candidates to two hopefuls who will face off in a final election on Nov. 5.
As of 9 a.m., 18,604 voters, or 5.05 percent of registered voters, had cast ballots, according to revised city figures. Still, that’s about 5,000 more votes that had been cast as of 9 a.m. in the 2009 municipal election, when under 4 percent of voters had cast ballots by this time.
The election is the first wide-open mayoral race in a generation because of the decision by long-time Mayor Thomas M. Menino — beset in recent years by various ailments — not to seek a sixth term.
At Holy Name Parish in West Roxbury, considered to be a bellwether for turnout, poll workers were reporting lower-than-expected numbers. About 500 people had voted by 9 a.m.
“We didn’t have the big onslaught on the morning that we usually have,’’ said Donna Curtin, a volunteer who was helping voters check in at Precinct 19 in Ward 20. “They are usually waiting for us at the door in the morning. And they weren’t this morning.’’
Curtin said about 50 voters were voting at Precinct 19 every hour compared to the 75 to 100 they usually expect. She and others anticipated a large turnout later today.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, who stayed at the polling place after casting his vote in the election, greeted voters at the door. “It’s still very early,’’ Conley said in response to a question about the low turnout. “I’m not concerned. To me it feels brisk and I vote here.’’
State Representative Edward Coppinger, 40, brought two of his daughters to vote with him at the parish hall and was struck by the low voter turnout.
“I was very surprised that poll workers said turnout was so low,’’ Coppinger said.
Dan Conlin, a 23-year-old who works for the state Department of Revenue, was the first to vote at Holy Name. He chose City Councilor At-Large John Connolly.
“Growing up, one of the things that was important to me was education and [Connolly] grabbed my attention with that,” Conlin said.
At the West Roxbury branch library where nearly 300 people had voted in the two precincts here by 10 a.m., Judie Walsh, 64, of West Roxbury said she wasn’t sure who she was going to vote for until she walked into the polling place.
She had narrowed it down to three candidates – Conley, Connolly and Representative Martin J. Walsh.
“It was very difficult because they are such a good group, but I like everything about Walsh,’’ she said. “He just seems to connect with me more.’’
She said that she decided against Conley because “he is great in the position he is in now. I was hoping he would step up some more.’’ She voted against Connolly because “he just didn’t click with me.’’
She and her husband Rich Walsh, a retired Boston firefighter, said they liked everything about Walsh, who was endorsed by Local 718, the firefighters union.
“There is no negativity from him,’’ she said. “There was an automatic connection. I look forward to seeing what he will do.’’
The Walshes have a son and a grandson who are Boston firefighters.
“I know he will support them, which means a lot to me,’’ said Rich Walsh. The couple said they were not related to the candidate.
At the Chittick School on the Mattapan/Hyde Park line, Marie Blas, 59, settled on John Barros.
“I have election fatigue, there have been so many, but I felt today was important,” Blas said. “It was hard to choose for mayor. We had Menino for so long, so you don’t really know the background of these people. I tried to read up on them, but it was still so confusing. There are so many candidates.”
Maurice Baker, 52, a small-business owner, also found his mayoral vote was a difficult decision, but ended up with Charles Clemons, who runs a radio station.
“I listened to the media and attended neighborhood meetings to hear what they had to say,” Baker said. “I heard from [Clemons] more when it came to my concerns,” like education and safety. “We need something fresh and to get out of the old habits.’’
With Menino no longer dominating the political scene, the candidates have scrambled onto the stage. They’ve campaigned tirelessly for months, speaking at forums on such issues as charter schools, affordable housing, and transportation, and personally meeting thousands of voters. They’ve released TV ads and plastered the city with signs.
The Globe has reported that experts say the outcome of the contest is difficult to predict. Several recent polls have found Connolly leading the pack. Other strong contenders, according to the polls, include Charlotte Golar Richie, Conley, and Walsh.
But political observers say that none of the candidates has had a break-through moment that captured the imagination of masses of voters and that the race is likely to come down to a house-by-house fight in which 20,000 to 25,000 votes could earn someone a spot in the final.
For the most part, the mayoral candidates have been civil to each other, reflecting the work they’ve done together in the past on various issues. Some commentators have praised the tone of the race.
Also on today’s ballot, 19 candidates are running for the City Council’s four citywide seats — a field that includes former council members, well-known community leaders, and political newcomers and that will be narrowed to eight finalists.
The polls will be open today from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. To find your polling place, click here.