Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

November 30, 2013

Turnout in Cambridge Municipal Elections: 1951 to 2013

Filed under: 2013 Election,Cambridge,elections — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 9:49 am

Turnout 2013Turnout in Cambridge Municipal Elections: 1951 to 2013

The percent voter turnout in the recent Cambridge municipal election was about the same as recent years. Here are a few graphics to show the trend from 1951 to 2013:

Turnout graph
Click for larger image

The chart shows voter turnout as a fraction of the "active" voters in order to give a better indication of actual voter turnout. This year the number of registered voters reached an all-time high – in part due to the fact that the list has not been purged out of caution because of the various special elections that have taken place (and still to take place on Dec 10 for the 5th Congressional District). As a fraction of all registered voters, the voter turnout was 25%. As a fraction of "active" voters, the voter turnout was 35%. By either measure, voter turnout was down 1%. However, the actual number of voters increased by approximately 12% from 15,971 to 17,846 based on the number of City Council ballots cast.


  1. It is not surprising that turnout keeps decreasing. We have lots of population turnover in the city and new residents know very little about the city government and our very-different voting system. Other than CCTV and your website there is very little easily accessible comparative public information about the candidates. There are many phone calls and brochures for the 6 weeks or so before election day; but just as you can’t evaluate the quality of a product by its advertisements you can’t judge a candidate on the information in his or her own brochure. On what basis can people decide who to choose?

    There is very little news available about big issues and what individual councillors and school committee people actually stand for on the issues when they come up and what they actually do. The biggest issue in the now distant past was rent control – preservation or killing affected lots of people and we had organizations like the Cambridge Civic Association that created slates and made a big deal about the issue.

    Can you identify some big issues in the last 10 years where a critical decision was made by the City Council or School Committee as opposed to essentially endorsing what the administration worked on – yes, there was public input during their process so the planning wasn’t made in a vacuum?

    Comment by John Gintell — November 30, 2013 @ 11:59 am

  2. Robert (or anyone): why the jump in turnout – # of voters and % – in 2003?
    Appears to be a statistically significant jump – but why? Was there a ballot measure? I was here and voted, but don’t remember any big issue.

    Comment by Patty Nolan — November 30, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

  3. There was a ballot question in 2003 to petition the state legislature to allow Cambridge to restore rent control. The effort never stood a chance of being approved by the legislature, and the Governor had promised to veto it even if it had passed. The effort backfired in the worst way. Opponents of rent control responded with a major campaign to defeat the ballot question. Voter turnout shot up, primarily with voters opposed to the measure, and Cambridge voted against the restoration of rent control – something that would have been unthinkable a decade earlier. For all intents and purposes, that was the final nail in the coffin of Cambridge rent control.

    The election also had a spillover effect in causing the vote totals of anti-rent control candidates to soar, most notably Anthony Galluccio. His surplus ballots then catapulted David Maher past Matt DeBergalis and David never looked back.

    Comment by Robert Winters — November 30, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

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