Monday, Dec. 07
PITTSFIELD - While Tuesday's U.S. Senate primary is the first step toward replacing the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the state reimbursing cash-strapped cities and towns the money spent on the special election remains an uncertainty.

Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin's office has already received $5.4 million from the Legislature to cover its expenses for staging Tuesday's primary and the Jan. 19 run-off between the respective Democratic and Republican winners. Kennedy's successor will serve out the six-year term which expires in 2012.

However, lawmakers have been noncommittal about municipal reimbursements, even though state Auditor A. Joseph DeNucci has declared the off-season election an unfunded mandate. Gov. Deval L. Patrick ordered the election on Aug. 31, a week after Kennedy's death.

"Hopefully we'll see reimbursement," said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, DPittsfield. "It's something we have to do." However, Downing said the availability of state funds depends on the "somewhat positive" monthly revenue collections continuing to be above projections for a state facing a possible $400 million to $600 million shortfall in the current fiscal year.

"I've urged communities to keep track of all costs associated with the election and hopefully [the Legislature] can free up some resources," he added.

Local election officials said they already estimate spending thousands of dollars on a primary and special election that was unexpected when the fiscal year began July 1.


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"We didn't budget for it - that's the hard part" said Lee Town Clerk Sue Scarpa, who anticipates asking for $ 2,800 reserve fund transfer from town coffers to pay Lee's election expenses.

Pittsfield officials are currently deciding how the city will pay its estimated $42,000 election bill.

"We will spend $21,000 just to staff the polling places which is the biggest part of the election budget," said City Clerk Linda M. Tyer.

In addition, municipalities will have to shell out overtime pay for workers who will be preparing the polling places the day before Jan. 19 as Monday Jan. 18 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day ? a federal holiday.

"That's the biggest reason why the election is costing [Pittsfield] almost $42,000," noted Tyer.

Nevertheless, Tyer and other local officials are taking the race for the U.S. Senate as seriously as any other election and they want voters to do the same.

All polling places on Tuesday are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

"The election is something we have to do and we'll be ready," said North Adams City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau, who expects to spend $22,000 on the election. "I'm just not sure people are paying attention."

"However there might be interest here since Martha Coakley is from the area," Gomeau noted, referring to the Attorney General who grew up in North Adams.

Coakley, now a Medford resident, along with U.S. Rep. Michael E. Capuano, D- Somerville, businessman and Boston Celtics coowner Stephen Pagliuca of Weston and Alan A. Khazei from Brookline are competing in the Democratic primary. The winner advances to the Jan. 18 special general election against the Republican primary victor ? either State Rep. Scott D. Brown, R-Wrentham or Jack E. Robinson of Duxbury.

Local and state election officials admit voter turnout is traditionally low for a state-wide primary which is party centric. Registered Democrats and Republicans can only vote in their respective party's primary. Voters without a political party affiliation ? or "unenrolled" -- must choose which primary they want to cast their ballots, but their status on the voter registration list remains the same.

"It's hard to get people out to vote anyway - even in a regular election," said Scarpa.

Furthermore, Tuesday's primary occurring in the holiday season and a month after several hotly contested local campaigns, could also affect voter turnout, election officials said.

Pittsfield and North Adams both had grueling mayoral races culminating in heavy voter turnout on Nov. 3. Meanwhile, Dalton held a special election on Nov. 16 in which town voters approved a debt exclusion to pay for a new senior center. 

"Once the local election was over," said Town Clerk Barbara Suriner, "the next day my office had to start preparing absentee ballots for the [Senate] primary."

The timing of the U.S. Senate race has both candidates and local and state election officials feverously trying to urge Massachusetts residents to vote on Tuesday. Secretary Galvin has done radio and television commercials reminding people of the primary election and thousands of households have received prerecorded messages from the Democratic and Republican hopefuls.

"Just about every candidate has called my house," said Brian McNiff, spokesman for Galvin's office.