But the lack of a preliminary, some argue, kept the race out of the public eye, leading to low turnout in the general election. That helped Murphy, whose backers tend to be older, stable, reliable voters who show up for every election. The result: when newcomer John Connolly won one of the four seats, it came at the expense of Felix D. Arroyo, whose younger, more transient supporters were less aware of the election, according to this argument.

Now, some say, he has changed the rules again to discourage competition.

The Election Department will still be verifying ballots for several weeks, though it appears that most, but not all, of the 23 candidates will reach the petition goal. And some have found a silver lining in the new law.

"It's allowing us to really organize and energize our volunteers," says Ego Ezedi of Dorchester, who's now running citywide, after a failed 2005 district campaign. "The volunteers really feel like they're part of something."

"It gives us a first-hand account of what the residents think," adds Hiep Nguyen, a first-time candidate from Dorchester.

The swarm of signature-gatherers may also be making Bostonians aware that it's a city-election year, generating some interest in the candidates and the process. That might push up turnout, possibly to the advantage of the newcomers — and perhaps even jeopardizing Murphy.

But as one City Hall insider impishly observes, more Murphy-protection measures could still be on the way: Murphy's former aide, State Representative Michael Moran, has just become chair of the Joint Committee on Elections Laws.

To read the "Talking Politics" blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached at dbernstein@phx.com.

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