Voter turnout in the New Jersey special election primary last night was higher than expected, with over 300,000 people casting their ballots on a rainy day in the middle of the summer.
As expected, Cory Booker easily won the Democratic primary on Tuesday. The Associated Press called the election just 45 minutes after the polls closed and only seven percent of precincts reporting.
He will face Republican Steve Lonegan in the October special election to decide who will replace Senator Frank Lautenberg.
The election was marred by controversy surrounding Governor Chris Christie’s decision to hold the special election just three weeks before the November gubernatorial race, which was largely seen as an errant expense and highly political move to protect his large lead in the polls.
Pundits had predicted alarmingly low voter turnout. As torrential rain blanketed the area, one poll worker in Hillsborough remarked, “We don’t have the turnout. We’ve been sitting here bored to death.”
Buoyed by enthusiastic Booker supporters and national headlines which covered the race, the rain cleared by early afternoon and 9 percent of New Jersey voters came out to have their voice heard.
The lowest turnout for a Senate primary in NJ was in 2006 when only 8.4 percent of voters came out.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Booker received 59 percent of the vote. Representative Frank Pallone received a distant second with 19.7 percent of the vote, Representative Rush Holt garnered 17 percent, and State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver received less than 5 percent.
On the Republican side, Steve Lonegan received 79 percent of the vote.
Monmouth University political scientist, Patrick Murray reported that the turnout was not horribly low, mostly because there was “enough excitement about the Booker candidacy.”
Last night it was projected that approximately 21 percent of Republicans and 11 percent of Democrats, and less than 9 percent of independent voters who can vote if they join a party at the polls showed up.
Given the difficult circumstances of an off-calendar special election primary, the voter turnout can be seen as a triumph of the organization of the campaigns. However, with more than 90 percent of New Jersey voters without a say in the primary, and who will represent them in the Senate, voters are still left to wonder what it is about the primary system that keeps so many people uninterested and unable to participate in the democratic process.