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Primaries drew most voters since 2006

August 20, 2018

More voters showed up to cast a ballot in last week’s primary than have in any primary since 2006 — a sign the momentum picked up by both parties after the 2016 election won’t slow anytime soon.

“The turnout was higher than average for a summer primary, around 30 percent overall,” secretary of the state Denise Merrill said in a statement Friday. “This is consistent with the increase in voter registration since the 2016 election which has also been unusually high.”

About 32 percent of registered Republicans and 29 percent of registered Democrats voted in the primary, according to the latest but unofficial results from the Secretary of the State’s office. Both parties saw in increase in the number of voters that cast ballots.

Turnout varied widely by town. Communities with contentious local primaries saw higher turnout than those where statewide candidates were the only ones on the ballot, and on both sides of the aisle many of the small towns in the 5th Congressional District saw some of the highest voter turnout by percentage in the entire state.

In Milford, for example, where Republican Pam Staneski defeated the party-endorsed candidate, more than 2,700 Republicans (about 30 percent) showed up at the polls to cast their ballot.

Democrats in Bridgeport and Hartford comprised a good portion of overall statewide turn out, but by percentage, only about one in five Bridgeport and Hartford Democrats cast a ballot.

“Democrats are energized, and that’s been reflected in every election in the state since 2016. Voters understand what’s at stake this election,” said Christina Polizzi, spokesman for the state Democratic party.

Polizzi said the party’s post-2016 momentum isn’t only limited to the polls, which could be the reason for the increased voter turnout in the middle of a hot summer month. She said the party has also seen a surge in first-time volunteers as well as people participating in voter-contact training.

J.R. Romano, chairman of the state Republican party, attributed the surge in Republican voters and Republican registrations to the unpopularity of outgoing Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

“I would argue that Dan Malloy has certainly motivated Republicans,” Romano said. “It’s a sign that there’s growing interest in taking back this state. There’s a lot of excitement for the Republican party.”

Even so, the surge in voter registration and turnout ahead of the primary might not be the best indicator of what’s to come in November, said Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut.

Quickmire also noted that while overall voter turnout in the primary was up compared to previous years, it’s still abysmally low considering the number of people who were actually eligible to vote.

“We live in a country that purports to be the strongest Democracy and yet we have these low voter turnouts in every race for years now, and it’s incredibly disappointing,” Quickmire said. “I think we need to do a much better job of getting voters out.”

The biggest question, she said, is whether unaffiliated voters will turn out at higher rates in November. Those who vote in the primary tend to be the party-faithful, and unaffiliated voters — the state’s largest voting block — were barred from voting last week, but will undoubtedly sway the November election. If they show up to the polls, that is.

“When we get to the general election, it’s unclear to me how the parties are going to mobilize beyond their base,” Quickmire said. “What’s being done to mobilize those folks? They couldn’t make a decision when they were registering to support one or the other party, they are independent minded folks who don’t want to be associated with one of the major parties. How is it the candidates are going to motivate them to come out and vote?”

kkrasselt@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2563; @kaitlynkrasselt

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