Yesterday’s puzzlement at Boston polls was the huge percentage of voters who had no concept of how a primary works. Each unenrolled (independent or undeclared in other states’ lingo) voter got to choose one of the three ballots for the special election primary yesterday. With half the state unenrolled in any political party, that was a lot of choices.
Amusingly, the Libertarian party got a ballot without a listed candidate. Their committee picked a candidate without bothering with conventions, membership input and those messy details. Yet, they had enough presence in previous elections for a ballot. In this case, it was blank, requiring smudging the write-in oval and then doing that deed. The recommended candidate from the LAMA site was Joe Kennedy, no relation to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s family.
How Many: In Boston, out of 67,025 votes tallied, 53 were Libertarian write-ins.
At my poll in Hyde Park, voter after voter with U beside their name instead of R or D insisted their were independents and should not have to choose Democratic, Republican or Libertarian ballots. Many asked with passion, “Why should I have to tell you who I’m voting for?!”
Of course, we sticklers had the answer. In a general election, you can vote for any party’s candidate. In a primary, you are narrowing the field for a given party. Unenrolled voters can do that at primary voting for any one party with a ballot. Like other enrolled voters, they cannot do that for all parties simultaneously.
Most of the objecting Us were 40 or older. They certainly had participated in primaries numerous times before. All of us working the poll were surprised and amused at how widespread the confusion was. In fact, in my clerk’s book that goes back to the city Election Department, I asked whether this suggested a need for more voter education on this matter before the next primary.
A typical dialog would be:
Inspector: You are unenrolled. Which ballot would you like, Democratic, Republican or Libertarian?
Voter: I’m an independent.
Inspector: Yes and you have the choice of any of the three ballots. Would you like, Democratic, Republican or Libertarian?
Voter: (angrily) I don’t have to tell you who I’m voting for!
Inspector: That’s true, but you do have to decide for today’s primary which party ballot you want.
Voter: (raising voice) No, I’m an independent!
With some voters. this continued for several iterations. Some were placated when they examined all three ballots and almost invariably were happy with the Democratic one. Many asked how they could revert to independent as they called it after voting a ballot. They were unaware that the ballots were not associated with their names and usually they needed to hear twice that they remained unenrolled on the list unless they filled in and returned a voter registration card affiliating with a party.
The pride so many U voters showed in claiming to be independents was stereotypical New England. Hedging your bets is also more generally American. Yet, the primary process should not seem so esoteric to so many.
Yesterday, everyone eventually got it. Some had tostand to the side of the check-in table to keep from blocking the queue while they examined all three ballots. In the end though, everyone chose one of the three ballots.
No doubt they’ll feel better voting in the January 19th special election final. Everyone will get the single ballot with the Democratic and Republican candidates listed and an oval/space for write-in option.