As Results in the 5th Again Showed, Not Voting's a Good Way to Affect the Outcome

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

There are 34,007 registered voters in Waltham, Mass.

Of those, 18,695 are Independents (Unenrolled), 12,102 are Democrats, 3,009 are Republicans, and the rest belong to low-voltage parties, like the Green and the Socialist.

Waltham is part of the state’s 5th Congressional District.  On Tuesday, Oct. 15, a primary election was held for the purpose of choosing the Democrat and Republican nominees for the district’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.  This was a special election made necessary by the election in June to the U.S. Senate of longtime 5th District incumbent Ed Markey. The final election will be on Dec. 10.

At 19%, voter turnout in Waltham that day was low, as it was throughout the district.  Folks in Waltham are like folks everywhere in the U.S. today.  They do not think their vote matters much.    

Of the 34,007 eligible to vote there on Oct. 15, only 6,461 did.  Of those 6,461 voters, 5,622 cast Democratic ballots. 

Most of the Democratic votes went to the hometown favorite, Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian.  He represented Waltham in the Massachusetts House for 14 years before becoming sheriff in early 2011.  His family has been entrenched politically in the community for decades.

Koutoujian got 4,148 votes, 73% of the Democratic ballots.

Let’s take Waltham as an example of Anytown USA and play a game of what if. 

What if 80% of Waltham’s registered voters went to the polls on Oct. 15? Is that asking too much? 

What if that 80% turnout rate had applied equally to Independents and Democrats? 

What if Koutoujian were equally popular among Independents and Democrats by virtue of his local origins, popularity and effectiveness as a local legislator and a county official?  In partisan primaries, the Unenrolled may participate by requesting a party ballot.  The law makes it easy for them to put on Democrat or Republican clothes for the occasion, so to speak, and change back to their Unenrolled wear right away.

An 80% turnout would have produced 9,681 Democrat and 14,956 Independent votes. 

If Koutoujian captured 73% of both the Democrat and Independent votes on an 80% turnout day, he would have had 7,068 and 10,918 votes, respectively.  Those figures add up to 17,986.

The difference between his actual vote of 4,148 and his what-if vote of 17,986 is 13,838.

Koutoujian was the runner-up in the primary.   He lost by 6,680 votes to State Senator Katherine Clark of Melrose, who’s a shoe-in to beat her Republican opponent, Frank Addivinola, on Dec. 10.

District-wide, the actual vote totals were: Clark, 21,983; Koutoujian, 15,303; State Rep. Carl M. Sciortino, Jr., 11,160; State Senator William N. Brownsberger, 10,163; State Senator Karen E. Spilka, 9,088; Paul J. Maisano, 1,520; and Martin Long, 398.  When you throw in the blanks and write-ins for stray candidates, the total vote in the 5th came to 69,786 -- less than 10% of the population of the average U.S. House district today, which is about 710,000.

Under our what if scenario, where Koutoujian gets an additional 13,838 votes in Waltham, his district-wide total climbs to 29,141, he beats Clark by 7,158 votes, and he starts looking for an apartment in Washington. 

Of course, this rests on an assumption of impossibility, i.e., 80% turnout in Waltham and sub-20% turnout everywhere else in the district. 

Regardless, the point stands that Waltham voters had it within their power on Oct. 15 to send one of their own into the heart of national and international affairs and, potentially, the history books.   By declining to act, enough of them demonstrated the inverse of the old truth that a small sub-set of highly motivated voters can dramatically affect the outcome of any election.

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