Dismal 24% Turnout in New Jersey Senate Race Sets New Record Low

When Cory Booker became the newest member of Congress last week after winning New Jersey’s special senatorial election, he joined a legislative body that was, at the moment of his election, shutdown.

Embattled in a fight over the budget and whether to fund the president’s health care law, the government had been shut down for over two weeks. On the Slate Political Gabfest, Emily Bazalon noted that it was indeed an “inauspicious beginning” to Booker’s national political career. Meanwhile, David Plotz proved more blunt, flat out asking “why on earth would you want that job?”

Booker, however, had been eying the Senate seat since last year and proved ready to jump on the possibility of finally being able to run for the seat.

Unfortunately, the entire race has been clouded in controversy before it even began.

Booker first announced his intention to run for Senator Frank Lautenberg’s seat on December 20, 2012, before Lautenberg had even announced his intention to retire. Although he was the oldest serving senator at 88-years-old, Lautenberg asked Booker to wait for him to bow out before announcing his desire to run.

The Newark mayor was impatient though, which created a rift between himself and the elder statesman.

So when Lautenberg passed away earlier this year, Booker immediately announced his intention to run for the seat.

Chris Christie’s handling of the special election proved particularly contentious. It was held in August — a time when many citizens are on summer vacation — with the general election in October, just twenty days before his own election day. Many were appalled by the politics involved in the special election and the price tag of $24 million for taxpayers.

Are the hefty costs of elections with consistently abysmal turnout rates worth it? What reforms are needed to give voters a meaningful voice in New Jersey?

While Booker did win with a large margin last week, even the actual election did not escape scrutiny. The fears of a special election inhibiting political participation bore out, with only 24 percent of the population showing up to vote. This was the lowest number in New Jersey history by a wide margin.

For a U.S. Senate race in New Jersey, no other voter turnout even comes close; the lowest had previously been in 2002, when 46 percent of voters cast their ballot.

While Booker has wide national appeal, and continued to make headlines on Monday by performing some of the state’s first gay marriages, his run to join Congress — which has one of the worst approval rating in history — has been controversial at best, making Plotz and Bazelon’s comments all that more poignant.