Metro, Top Story, Politics

Despite Record Low Turnout for Primary Elections, Student Involvement High

Massachusetts voters came out to the polls to participate in the Massachusetts primary election last Thursday. In the state’s primaries, voters nominate candidates from their parties for U.S. representatives, state legislators, governor’s councilors, county sheriff, county commissioner, and register of deeds. These party picks will then face off on the Nov. 8 general ballot. Massachusetts utilizes a hybrid primary, or semi-closed primary. This means that unaffiliated voters in Massachusetts are permitted to vote in the primary. However, this Thursday’s primaries saw an unusually low voter turnout, at less than 9 percent.

State primaries are generally held on Tuesdays, but this year, Labor Day posed a problem to setting up polling places, as communities would have to pay workers overtime to work on the public holiday in order to have the primary the next day. So, the election was moved to Thursday, which could have impacted voter turnout. Before the election, Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin had predicted that voter turnout would be between 8 and 10 percent. According to the secretary of the Commonwealth’s office, less than 9 percent of registered voters in Boston showed up. The rest of the state saw low engagement, as well.

In a statement to The Boston Globe, Galvin attributed his low predictions to the large number of candidates running unopposed. In many cases, there was no vote to cast. For the nine Democrats who represent Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives, none of them drew a party challenger, and only the ninth district had a Republican primary.

For Massachusetts’ candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, four of the nine Democratic incumbents have no challengers for the upcoming general election. The 4th congressional district, which includes Chestnut Hill, has been represented by Joe Kennedy III (D) since 2013. Kennedy was first elected in 2012, and is seeking his third term this November. David Rosa (R) first appeared on Massachusetts’ ballot in 2012, running as an Independent against Kennedy and Republican Sean Bielat for a seat in the House representing the 4th congressional district. Earning 221,303 votes of the 373,114 votes cast, Kennedy safely took the House seat. In 2014, Kennedy returned to the House without a challenger in the general election. This year, Rosa is challenging Kennedy, this time as a Republican candidate.

“Leading up to the primary, I did not have a challenger … What was my big vision? I guess I could’ve gone fishing, but that struck me as irresponsible,” Rosa said. “So my mission was to, well, first of all, let my fellow Republicans know that I was in the race.”

Massachusetts is a historically blue state. According to state data, since 1948, there have been more registered Democratic voters than Republican voters. As of February this year, there are 1,490,335 registered Democrats and 468,295 registered Republican voters in the state: Democrats are registered at three times the rate of Republicans. Heading into the general election, in the state senate, the Democratic Party holds 34 of the 40 seats. At the national level, however, the Republican Party holds the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ballotpedia rates the election for the 4th congressional district as safely Democratic.

“As a Republican, I will now be in a very good position to engage my fellow Republicans in working on initiatives that will help set the stage for the revitalization of the economy,” Rosa said. “Now, the 4th congressional district would have a Republican sitting there with other Republicans to collaborate, cooperate, and set the stage, and help businesses of all sizes improve their circumstance.”

Rosa noted that it may be “counterproductive” to keep electing Democrats, particularly in Massachusetts, into the House of Representatives because of the Republican majority in the House. He feels that Republican congressmen could benefit the business climate of Massachusetts.

Politics has gotten more and more polarized recently. On controversial issues, party affiliation often seems to trump fact, rationale, and merit. Rosa insists that he has an obligation to be respectful to the viewpoints of Democrats, as long as they speak to the merit of their position. And when it comes to the economy, both in the 4th district and the nation, Rosa and Kennedy are concerned.

“First and foremost, many of the people in the district are concerned about the economy, the revitalization of the economy,” Rosa responded when asked what the biggest issue in the 4th district was. “The economy and its vitality. It’s important, I think clearly, especially in the 4th congressional district and the state of Mass. So, I’d say that’d be number one.”

When tackling the economy, each candidate’s website offer proposals.

According to Rosa’s campaign website, he hopes to encourage business growth by slashing Affordable Care Act funding, reining in the deficit, helping to keep interest rates low, and promoting the value of the dollar. He would also support environmental rules that encourage affordable energy.

Kennedy, on the other hand, advocates raising the minimum wage, expanding paid sick days and family leave, and supporting small businesses at the local level, according to the campaign website. It goes on to say that Kennedy believes that the public and private sectors must work together to build an economy that leaves no one behind.

Part of Kennedy’s strategy has been to get students on board. This call to action reflects the trend in this election cycle of students’ supporting candidates who reach out to them, most notably Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. The College Democrats of Boston College have worked closely with Kennedy’s campaign in the past. This past week, CDBC volunteered to help prepare a lawn sign distribution event at the campaign’s Newton office. Kennedy’s office did not respond to The Heights’ request for comment.

“Congressman Joe Kennedy is a strong and ardent supporter of the College Democrats of Boston College, and the organization has had a very productive relationship with him in years past,” said Rohit Bachanim, CDBC e-board member and CSOM ’19. “This year, the CDBC board has corresponded with the Kennedy campaign quite frequently in light of the primarystudents have had the opportunity to assemble lawn signs for the campaign, attend a ‘visibility’ event to promote the Congressman’s platform, and advocate for Congressman Kennedy in localities.”

Rosa also welcomes and encourages students to get involved in the election, stating that students today can play a role that has not been there in the pastsocial media and the array of new responsibilities that come with it. Based on time and circumstance, Rosa explains, students can participate in a campaign in a variety of ways, including phone calls, social media, and door knocking. The Boston College Republicans (BCR) were not available for comment. However, Rosa did not explicitly mention any involvement with their organization and the BCR’s Facebook page did not contain any mention to the 4th district candidate.

“I guess my message to the students today would be, if you’re going to engage, look for it to be an experience where you go learn from the people on the ground, the people with more experience …  Look to do some task that is not emotionally charged, that you would be proud,” Rosa said. “Name-calling on Facebook would not be something you put on your resume that would help you.”

Featured Image by Susan Walsh

September 15, 2016

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