BOSTON — Turnout in the recent state primary was paltry but some cities and towns exceeded the state’s average, driven by voter interest in local contested races and a surge of voting by mail.

More than one million ballots were cast in Massachusetts during the Sept. 6 primary, a turnout of more than 21.4% of the state’s 4.8 million registered voters, according to data from Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s office.

Despite the lackluster vote, some cities and towns outpaced the statewide turnout.

In Rockport, nearly 37% of the town’s 6,128 registered voters cast ballots — one of highest percentages in the state.

Marblehead and Swampscott also reported a higher-than-normal turnout with voters in those towns deciding from a packed ballot of six candidates who were vying to fill a vacancy in the 8th Essex House district.

Both communities reported a turnout of more than 33%, according to data from Galvin’s office.

Other north of Boston communities that saw turnout higher than much of the state included Newbury, Salem, Beverly, Hamilton, Wenham and Manchester.

Ahead of the primary, Galvin had said he expected the Democratic primary for Essex County District Attorney and several contested legislative races — such as the crowded Democratic primary to fill the 8th Essex district — to drive higher participation among voters in the region.

Lawrence, the region’s largest city, reported one of the lowest turnouts in the state with only 13.5% of the city’s 44,540 registered voters casting ballots. That’s despite a wide open primary to fill a new House seat in the region. Lynn followed closely behind, with an overall turnout of 14.9% in the primary.

Despite the paltry turnout, the state saw a sizable number of people take advantage of early and mail voting ahead of the primary.

More than half of the ballots in the Sept. 6 state primary were cast before Election Day during a weeklong early voting period, by mail or dropped off at city and town halls, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Of those early votes, 45.6% of ballots were cast by mail and 4.6% during early voting.

Like the overall turnout, a number of communities north of Boston exceeded the state’s average on mail voting in the primary.

In North Andover, 56.9% of the 5,028 votes in the primary were cast by mail or by dropping off a ballot at town hall, according to state elections data. Andover followed close behind with 53.9% of ballots cast by mail, while in Amesbury 46.8% of the primary votes were mail ballots.

The percentage of mail ballots in the primary still pales by comparison to the 2020 presidential elections, when more than 2.3 million mail-in votes were cast, eclipsing the number of people who showed up on Election Day.

Some communities broke records in 2020 with nearly 50% of the ballots cast by mail.

Massachusetts was one of about two dozen states that authorized expanded early and no-excuse voting by mail during the pandemic as part of broader efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A voting law overhaul signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker in June allows citizens to vote by mail for any federal, state or local primary election.

It also authorized early voting and moved the state’s voter registration deadline from 20 to 10 days before elections.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at

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