“Millions of Americans have given up on our political system. It is a sad state of affairs as so many fought and died to protect our democracy.” – Senator Bernie Sanders today on MSNBC
In the 2012 presidential primary New Jersey voters only produced an 8.8 percent voter turnout. In 2013 when we had primaries for the governor, state senators and assemblypersons, the turnout was under 10 percent, which even county clerks admitted was “very low” for the state.
It appears this year with one state senate and 80 assembly seats the turnout may be as low or lower. The number of current registered voters who can participate in the primary is 1,750,385 Democrats and 1,057,466 Republicans or a total of 2,807,851 voters (plus people who affiliate with an R or D party today.) As all 40 districts are apportioned to the same population number there is an an average of about 70,196 eligible R and D voters in each district. We will learn later the actual turnout level.
The number of candidates competing for seats decreased in 2015. We need some changes in our primary system. Also, when there is low turnout on the part of Democrats, it could hurt them in the next re-apportionment of districts.
In 2013 there were 181 candidates running for the party nod for 80 Assembly seats – 92 Democrats and 89 Republicans. In 2015 there were only 170 candidates – 86 Dems and 84 R’s (plus write-ins). In effect in 2015 there were only six D’s and 4 R’s on the ballots in excess of the 80 seats available. Thus intra-party competition is dismal.
The fact that in NJ’s “closed primary system” unaffiliated voters can not vote today reduces the turnout. The fact that we have apportioned “safe” districts discourages competition, particularly against incumbents. Party machines and local bosses also depress competition. If there are only two candidates per party in an assembly race, as is the case in most districts, they will all automatically become the candidates for the general election. Fortunately, in today’s primary there are some competitive districts, but not many.
Beyond just the lack of participation, there could be a downside for D’s not voting. For example, in 2003 the Republican legislative candidates actually carried 53 per cent of the total votes cast statewide; yet the New Jersey GOP lost seats in both houses. The R’s can use such data in 2021 to justify more favorable R districts during reapportionment.