Low primary turnout is to be expected
Turnout in primary elections tend to be much lower than turnout for general elections in the fall.
Despite a slight jump in turnout this year, some in New Jersey said it was still relatively low.
“In general, we have low turnout in primaries, often…it was low, I think, compared to a lot of other states as well,” said Henal Patel, director of democracy and justice programming at the New Jersey Institute For Social Justice.
Patel blamed low voter turnout, in general, on “the line,” a practice in New Jersey in which party-endorsed candidates for different offices are grouped together on the ballot.
Critics of the process often say it thwarts election competitiveness, because it essentially gives preferential treatment to candidates.
“It’s so hard to mount a challenge against someone who has the line, that we end up having many races where nobody even tries to challenge it,” Patel said.
She also said that a general lack of civics education and awareness in the state also hurts primary turnout.
The New Jersey Institute For Social Justice is also part of a coalition of social justice advocacy groups supporting a bill in the state legislature that would allow for same-day voter registration, including on Election Day this fall. Patel said it would boost voter turnout in underrepresented communities.
Currently, New Jersey’s voter registration deadline is three weeks before Election Day. That means people who relocate during that window wouldn’t be able to vote in their new district.
“Why do we have an arbitrary barrier, preventing people from exercising the sacred right to vote?” Patel said.
There weren’t many surprises in this year’s primary races. Incumbents won their primaries by huge margins in 11 out of 12 districts with incumbents running. Five ran unopposed.
And candidates with name recognition like Tom Kean, Jr. and Bob Menendez won big in their respective races for the 7th and 8th districts.