The first voters did not show up at some precincts until after the poll workers had finished their first cup of coffee. In one Dorchester voting location, the police officer on duty spent much of the morning reading, only occasionally interrupted by voters trickling through.
Whether it was election fatigue or the scorching temperatures, voters lived up to predictions Tuesday, turning out in extremely low numbers for the US Senate special election to replace John F. Kerry.
With 96 percent of precincts reporting, fewer than 1.2 million votes had been cast, well short of the most pessimistic prediction and more than a million fewer than those cast in the 2010 special election to replace Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
The total number of votes cast even fell shy of the number received by Republican Scott Brown in that contest. Final turnout Tuesday was expected to be about 27 percent, compared with 54 percent in 2010.
The race between Representative Edward J. Markey, a Democrat, and Republican Gabriel Gomez faced tough competition for voters’ attention from the get-go.
Shortly before 8 a.m., poll workers outnumbered voters at a polling station on Tremont Street in the South End.
With the compressed election schedule, which began in the midst of a blizzard, the candidates struggled to capture the attention of a public preoccupied by other news events, including the Marathon bombings and, most recently, the Bruins’ bid for the Stanley Cup.
Potential voters awoke Tuesday to sizzling hot weather, which added another layer of lethargy to the affair.
“But it’s so hot, let’s go back to the car,” a little girl pleaded with her mother as they approached a South Boston polling location.
“We’ve got to vote. It’s important. And then you can have a lollipop,” her mother told her.
“But it’s too hot,” the girl responded, not quite convinced.
At many polling locations in Boston, voters could be forgiven if they had some confusion about which election they were participating in. With the wide-open contest to replace longtime Mayor Thomas M. Menino now in full swing, most polling places were plastered with mayoral campaign signs.
And of those who did vote, not all seemed wooed by Gomez’s compelling biography and his promise to be a moderate if elected.
“The part about him being a SEAL is awesome,” said Al Fox, union electrician, who was voting in Woburn. “But it has nothing to do with the race.”
Stephanie Ebbert and Eric Moskowitz of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Matt Rocheleau contributed to this report. Wesley Lowery can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.