Watching Turnout

Back in July I made some observations about voting among black Bostonians. In particular I looked at the city’s 62 majority-black precincts (where roughly half of black Bostonians live). In the 2006 state primary—when Deval Patrick was vying to be the first black governor of the Commonwealth—those precincts accounted for 22 percent of the total city vote. By contrast, in the 2005 municipal preliminary, with relatively little to excite black voters, those same precincts accounted for just 15 percent of the total.

It was thought by many that black Bostonians were not particularly enthused about today’s mayoral preliminary, compared with more traditional voting bases. And the share of those 62 precincts started out at around 15 percent of the city total this morning, according to my calculations based on city reports.

But that share has steadily climbed, and now, by 6 p.m., it’s hit 20 percent. If it keeps climbing—and the conventional wisdom is that those precincts tend to vote later in the day—it could get to those Deval-esque numbers; or perhaps the 21 percent they hit in the 2008 Obama vs. Clinton primary.

That might be good news for Charlotte Golar Richie. On the other hand, some of that enthusiasm is likely due to other candidates, particularly John Barros, who has certainly drawn many less-than-regular voters out today. Richie is surely not getting anywhere near 88 percent of the vote in those 62 precincts, which is what Patrick got in the ’06 preliminary.

But then again, she doesn’t need to—she needs to finish in the top two in a widely divided field. She just needs to combine a strong showing among Boston’s black voters with a fair percentage of white voters who like the idea of a woman at least getting into the final. And anecdotally, I get the sense there are some of those out there.

Overall, it looks to me like turnout will end up somewhere around 110,000-115,000. West Roxbury, Hyde Park, and especially Marty Walsh’s base in Dorchester are performing well; South Boston is underperforming its usual municipal-election share.

With those numbers, it’s possible that it will only take about 20,000 votes to get one of the top two spots. (Although it’s also possible that votes will have coalesced around, say, Walsh and John Connolly and they’ll both be well over that.)

If you need 20,000, every little bit is going to count. Reading the tea leaves of the turnout numbers doesn’t tell us what happened today, but it might help explain why it happened, once we know.

David S. Bernstein
David S. Bernstein David S. Bernstein, Contributing Editor, Boston Magazine