Keller @ Large: Off-year elections have lower turnout but big impact

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BOSTON – They call them the “off year” elections, a tipoff to where they stand on the turnout and excitement meters. But make no mistake, the voting happening today matters, big time.
            
As Secretary of State William Galvin notes, “There are issues about education, zoning, housing, taxes – those are all very important local issues.” Both here at home and across the nation, local elections will provide insight into what voters are really thinking.
            
For instance, in Boston, after two prominent City Council liberals were bounced during the preliminary elections in September, the council results are being closely watched for signs of any sort of backlash against progressive control of City Hall. “We need great partners on the City Council,” said Mayor Michelle Wu, who made her choices for the Council clear.

The outcome will be both a referendum on her first two years in office and an omen for what happens next. “It’s really critical not to go back and have center or right candidates on the council who will continue to divide us,” says Anne Rousseau, a progressive activist from Jamaica Plain. But less liberal voters might disagree, and we’ll see how much juice they have left in city politics.

Meanwhile in Ohio, the presidential-sized turnout today reflects voter intensity on an issue that blunted a forecast red wave last year – abortion rights. “I honestly kind of stay away a lot from politics,” said one female voter holding a baby as she waited in a long line to vote on a ballot question cementing abortion rights in the state constitution. “I think it’s important as women to keep, you know, fighting for our rights.”

Abortion bans pushed by the right have women and like-minded men flocking to the polls in Kentucky, where the pro-choice Democratic incumbent governor faces a challenge from an abortion ban advocate.

And Virginia’s legislative races could be a referendum on both GOP Governor Glenn Youngkin’s opposition to gun control and his White House aspirations.

As the results become apparent, keep an eye on how incumbents perform as a sign of voter discontent or the lack of it. The mayoral races in Waltham and Quincy are two especially worth noting.

And if voters in those red states stand up again for abortion rights, that would make two years in a row where that issue has shown real potency, a warning to anti-choice Republicans around the country. 

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