BEVERLY — Local preliminary elections are notorious for drawing a narrow slice of the electorate. But even by those standards, Tuesday’s election in Beverly stands as the ultimate in voter apathy.
Out of 29,693 registered voters in the city, only 2,107 bothered to show up. The 7.1% turnout was astonishingly low — the lowest in recent history for the city, and maybe ever.
Ward 3 City Councilor Stacy Ames, who is not running for reelection, called the low turnout “concerning.” At-Large City Councilor Tim Flaherty, who is also not seeking reelection, said it was “embarrassing.”
Preliminary elections in Beverly over the last two decades have averaged about an 18% turnout. The previous low before Tuesday came in 2007, when 13% of voters went to the polls — still nearly twice as many as this week.
The low turnout came even though there was a preliminary election for mayor, which usually draws the most interest. There was also a race for city councilor in Ward 3. But even there, the turnout was 7.5%, barely above the citywide turnout.
Mayor Mike Cahill and challenger Esther Ngotho advanced to the Nov. 2 final in the mayor’s race, taking the top two spots with 1,262 and 609 votes. Steven Crowley (173 votes) and Euplio Marciano (93) moved on in Ward 3.
Beverly’s low voter interest contrasts to a comparatively robust voter response in Salem, which had a 21.5% turnout in its Sept. 14 preliminary. The Salem turnout was likely boosted by the fact that it had four City Council races as opposed to Beverly’s one; both cities had mayoral contests.
Ames also pointed out the fact that there was no early voting this year in Beverly (there was mail-in voting). In Salem, 451 people voted early in-person, according to the Salem City Clerk’s office.
Overall, Salem more than tripled Beverly’s number of voters — 6,897 to 2,107.
Flaherty said the fact that there were only two races likely tempered the turnout. The preliminary eliminated only two candidates — Marshall Sterman, an 89-year-old business consultant who was running for mayor, and Naisha Tatis, a 19-year-old college student who ran in Ward 3. Tatis lost by only eight votes.
“If you had a race in Ward 4, a race in Ward 5, it might be different,” Flaherty said. “The more people that run, the more people get out there and vote.”
Even with that, Flaherty acknowledged that 7% is exceedingly low. “I think there’s a lot of apathy out there,” he said. “People’s lives are so busy and they do not get involved as much.”
Ames said the fact that Beverly held its election a week after the elections in Salem, Peabody and other cities, including Boston, may have confused some people. Debra O’Malley, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said preliminary elections are set by a city’s charter. Beverly’s charter calls for the preliminary to be held on the sixth Tuesday before the general city election. O’Malley said it’s not unusual to see preliminary elections held on different dates in various communities.
Ames said the lack of a candidates’ forum this year may have contributed to the low visibility of the Ward 3 race. Two years ago there was a well-attended forum for the Ward 3 preliminary held at Beverly High School. Turnout in that race was 13.5%.
“A candidates’ forum would be very helpful to get the word out there,” Ames said. “If you don’t subscribe to the newspaper or watch local cable it’s hard to know what these candidates are about.”
Paul Lanzikos, a member of the Beverly Human Rights Committee, said the races had little visibility in terms of signs and campaign literature, and there seemed to be no controversial issues among the candidates. He also wondered about the participation of level of residents who have moved to into the new apartment buildings on Rantoul Street.
“They would register to vote for a national election or maybe even a state election, but do they feel like they’re active citizens in the community? I don’t know,” Lanzikos said.
Cahill did not want to comment on the low turnout on election night, preferring to look ahead to the Nov. 2 final election.
“We’re going to do everything we can to communicate the importance of voting in November and try to make sure we turn out the vote,” he said.
Ngotho did not respond to a question about the turnout. On Wednesday she released a statement saying in part, “Yesterday, the people of Beverly spoke.”
“The people of Beverly are ready for a change,” Ngotho said.
Staff Writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.