Despite Cory Booker race, voter turnout in N.J.'s 2014 midterm elections was record low

By Brent Johnson | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on December 10, 2014

 

TRENTON — Even though a U.S. Senate race featuring a celebrity politician was at the top of the ticket, voter turnout in New Jersey last month was the lowest in state history for a regularly scheduled federal election.

Only 36 percent of registered voters turned up at the polls in this year's midterm elections, according to final numbers from the New Jersey Secretary of State's Office.

The data shows 1,955,042 of the state's 5,464,669 registered voters cast ballots.

The top race saw U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — a famous political figure with 1.5 million Twitter followers — win re-election over Republican challenger Jeff Bell.

The ticket also featured all 12 of the state's seats in the U.S. House of Representatives up for grabs, two statewide questions, and many local school and municipal races.

Presidential and gubernatorial elections traditionally draw the highest turnouts, and midterm elections — when congressional seats are up in the middle of a president's term — are often lighter.

But Somerset County Clerk Brett Radi expected the turnout this year to be in the 40s, considering the Senate race was on the ballot.

"I didn't suspect going into the election that we'd be at a historic low," Radi said.

The turnout was six percentage points lower than New Jersey's previous all-time low for a non-special federal election: 42 percent in the 1998 and 2010 midterm elections, when no Senate seats were up.

It was also eight percentage points lower than the state's previous low for a non-special Senate election: 46 percent in 2002, when Frank Lautenberg returned to politics two years after retiring to beat Republican Doug Forrester.

Voter turnout in New Jersey has been particularly low in recent years. Last October, a special U.S. Senate race — in which Booker was first elected to Congress' upper house to fill the seat vacated after Lautenberg's death — dew the lowest number of voters in history for a statewide election, at 24.5 percent. Experts say the fact that voting was held on a Wednesday, without any other races on the ballot, hurt the turnout.

A month later, Gov. Chris Christie — a potential 2016 presidential candidate who had soaring poll numbers at the time — won his re-election bid in a landslide. But turnout in the race was the lowest-ever for a New Jersey governor's election, at 39.6 percent.

Experts say this year's totals can be blamed partly on the fact that the races weren't competitive. Booker beat Bell by 13 percentage points in the Senate race, while incumbents and candidates for the incumbent party won every House race.

"I think theres a general dissatisfaction with politics, as well," Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami-Covello said.

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, added that voter turnout has decreased across the U.S. in recent years.

"This is a national issue," Murray said.

Radi, the Somerset County clerk, said he expects the elections next November — when state Assembly seats top the ticket — to draw even slimmer numbers.

"I won't be surprised," he said.

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