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Republicans show little interest in voting for Hampden County District Attorney

Aug. 20, 2014 | Chris Maza

GREATER SPRINGFIELD – As lawn signs, political commercials and social media messages have flooded the local area seeking support for various candidates for Hampden County District Attorney (DA), there is one group that appears will not have a voice in the decision.

A survey of local clerks’ offices recently conducted by Reminder Publications showed that in spite of the dearth of local races in need of Republican primary elections, few registered Republicans are taking the opportunity to change their voter registration status to unenrolled, or not affiliated with any party, in order to vote in Democratic elections like the DA race.

The primary will pit four Democrats – Shawn Allyn, Hal Etkin, Anthony Gulluni and Brett Vottero – against each other on Sept. 9.

Unlike the last election to fill the seat, during which former Democrat turned Independent candidate Mark Mastroianni won over Democratic candidate and former state Sen. Stephen Buoniconti, there are no Republican, Independent, or other third party candidates on the ballot, meaning the upcoming primary will decide the next DA.

Registered Democrats and those registered unenrolled may take Democratic ballots and vote for a candidate.

While voters had until Aug. 20 to change their voter registration status, representatives of several local communities reported little, if any, shift in the numbers in the days prior to that deadline.

Springfield Election Commissioner and Deputy Clerk Gladys Olga said there had not been any significant increase in party enrollment changes in her office.

“There have been a handful – approximately five to 10 – in the past couple weeks, which in my opinion does not constitute a huge rush to change their parties,” she said.

West Springfield Town Clerk Otto Frizzell said since June 1 his office saw just 14 people switch from Republican to unenrolled and only two people switch from Republican to Democrat in the same timeframe. For comparison, Frizzell said during the same period last year, the exact same number of voters transitioned from Republican to unenrolled and one made the switch to Democrat.

“I cannot say why Republican voters haven’t been switching parties except to speculate that they may not want to take the time to change parties and then change back just to vote in a single election,” Frizzell said. “It is also possible that, despite the DA race being extremely important to Hampden County, the voters at large are generally apathetic to it."

Janina Surdyka, registrar of voters in Chicopee, said her report on Aug. 18 reflected that since July 1, 12 voters switched from Republican to unenrolled.

“[A] small percentage of voters switching party, in my opinion, reflects the fact that Chicopee follows national trends where most of the new voters pick unenrolled status, and unenrolled voters may pick a preference of the ballot at the polling place,” she said, noting that 50 percent of Chicopee voters are already registered unenrolled while 38 percent are registered Democrats and 10 percent are Republicans.

Holyoke City Clerk Brenna Murphy McGee also estimated that as of Aug. 18, she had seen only three registered Republicans change their enrollment status. While she could not pinpoint and exact reason, she theorized that several factors could be at work.

“I think state primary elections are just very slow in general and my guess is that maybe a lot of people don’t realize that whomever wins the DA race in September becomes the new DA,” she said. “We have also seen only one person come in and absentee vote so far as well. We have only received a very few in the mail. That in itself shows it is going to be a very slow election.”

East Longmeadow Town Clerk Thomas Florence said his office handled “just a handful” of requests from Republicans to change their registration status.

He concurred with McGee’s assessment that primaries generally tend to lack the kind of interest garnered by a general election, but added there could be something else affecting the race.

“If candidates are from a voter’s hometown, it tends to make a difference,” he said. “In East Longmeadow, we have [Republican candidate for state Senate] Debra Boronski running, but there’s no [primary] race. You look at a town like Longmeadow where [Democrat] Eric Lesser is running [for state Senate] and you might see some shifts in voter registration, but I really think the combination of it being a primary and the candidates not being from East Longmeadow is at work here.”

Wilbraham’s Town Clerk’s Office indicated there had been “some change” to party registrations, but not a significant number.

“People don’t care about primaries,” Wilbraham Town Clerk Beverly Litchfield said.

Wilbraham Assistant Town Clerk Carole Tardif pointed out that like other local communities, the number of voters registered without a political affiliation double the amount of registered Democrats and Republicans.

“Democrat and Republican [voters] are pretty even,” she added.

Hampden Town Clerk Eva Weisman also said she hasn’t seen any changes to party affiliations, but like Chicopee and Wilbraham, “about half of our voters have always been unenrolled,” she noted.

“Those who are party members are usually pretty loyal to their respective party and those who are unenrolled will choose the one ballot that they feel has the most important impact on the general election,” she said.

Westfield City Clerk Karen Fanion reported “no influx” of people attempting to change their Republican voting status as of Aug. 18.

The lack of action is not for lack of trying, according to candidates.

Allyn said he has been reaching out to Republicans throughout his campaign and the efforts have been “well received,” pointing out he recently took part in an election fundraiser hosted by Holyoke City Council President Kevin Jourdain, secretary of the Holyoke Republican City Committee.

“I intend on being everyone’s DA so reaching across the board is very important to me,” he said.

Gulluni said he has attempted to reach out to all voters during his campaign .

“With regard to outreach to engage registered Republicans, throughout my campaign, I have utilized social media to connect with voters of all parties,” he said. “Most recently, we have used Facebook and Twitter to remind registered Republicans and potential voters who are currently unenrolled that the deadline to register to vote or to change party affiliation is Aug. 20. In addition to social media conversations to engage Republicans, I have been canvassing communities in Hampden County to speak directly to potential voters.”

Gulluni added that during his campaign “many registered Republicans” committed to changing their party affiliations in order to vote for him in the primary.

Vottero also noted that he has garnered support across party lines through continuous outreach throughout his campaign.

“I think that Republicans, like all voters, know that public safety is at the foundation of quality of life in our community – and a critical factor in building and maintaining a strong local economy. To be effective in protecting public safety, they know that the next District Attorney must a strong resume of experience, ability and integrity,” he said, “Because I have focused on all voters throughout the county, we do have many Republicans who are strong supporters and have changed their voting registration to Independent. They are urging some others to do so as well.”

Requests for information sent to Agawam Town Clerk Richard Theroux and Longmeadow Town Clerk Katherine Ingram were not returned as of press time. District Attorney candidate Hal Etkin also did not respond to a request for comment.

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