Donna Henry and Ronald Freeman Jr. help citizens with ballots and questions in Central Square’s senior center Nov. 8, 2005. (Photo: Lawrence E. Miller)

Donna Henry and Ronald Freeman Jr. help citizens with ballots and questions in Central Square’s senior center Nov. 8, 2005. (Photo: Lawrence E. Miller)

With only 15,994 voters reported in preliminary voting last night, the election took on an unfortunate distinction: lowest voter turnout on record.

Last election’s turnout was 20,958, with a rent control question on the ballot. On 2001, it was 17,688.

“Typically high turnout helps challengers,” said Patty Nolan, a surprise winner on the School Committee race. This low turnout “means people are complacent, and that’s bad. The danger is that people think their vote doesn’t matter.”

Campaigning was desultory in the last couple days of the election season, with candidates racing around — and City Council incumbents participating in the traditional, startlingly swift election eve meeting — but relatively few supporters to be found holding signs around town.

That also made for a relatively peaceful campaign, but that peace ended yesterday with citywide postings of attack ads against councilor Marjorie Decker and School Committee candidate Nolan.

The advertisements against Decker attacked her for her antiwar efforts. Decker, the daughter of a disabled veteran, regularly reads a list of the recent dead in Iraq to those assembled for council meetings. She is also perceived to have supported hecklers at a June presentation of a posthumous Medal of Honor to the 11-year-old son of a slain solder; while the boy was leading the pledge of allegiance, reports went, the protesters booed him.

Marjorie Decker with her brother, Tim Decker, outside of the Morse School polling station Nov. 8, 2005. Anti-Decker posters were found around town. (Photo: Schuyler Pisha)

Marjorie Decker with her brother, Tim Decker, outside of the Morse School polling station Nov. 8, 2005. Anti-Decker posters were found around town. (Photo: Schuyler Pisha)

“Militant Muslims for Marjorie,” the poster read. “For the sake of the caliphate, vote for Marjorie Decker.”

The ad was paid for, it said, by the “Death to American Campaign.”

The ads attacking Nolan implied that she was a leader who didn’t listen to others.

These kinds of things tend to galvanize support for candidates, said political pundit Robert Winters, keeper of the Cambridge Civic Journal site on the World Wide Web. Decker and Nolan might have benefited from the efforts, which were thought to be the work of one person or group.

Decker was also rumored to have been removed by police from a Cambridgeport polling station for campaigning inside, but police said last night that there had been no such incident — that, in fact, the entire day had been largely free of incident.

It turns out that no news wasn’t good news; it was just somewhat disappointing news for voter turnout.