New Hampshire

Why did voting drop in some of Connecticut’s big cities?

According to preliminary figures, around 58% of registered voters in Connecticut took part in last week’s elections.

That’s about average for the midterms, but some cities have seen a sharp drop in turnout. In Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven, the number of ballots cast was more than 10 percent below the historic midterm election average, according to an analysis by Connecticut Public.

That means thousands of people didn’t show up. And while the Democrats won the race for state office, they did so with fewer votes from some of their traditional strongholds.

What happened? Vinnie Mauro Jr., chair of the New Haven Democratic Town Committee, said changing demographics explains part of the challenge in this city. Newer voters have moved in, and he suspects many aren’t connected enough to local politics to come out and vote, he said.

With fewer open races on the ballot this year and polls showing likely wins for Democrats at the top of the ticket, some Democratic voters might also have found this election less competitive than previous midterms, he said.

“We have people in town who work second and third shifts,” Mauro Jr. said. “When it’s not, ‘Oh my God, it’s head to head,’ then sometimes people are like, ‘This time is it alright.'”

Nevertheless, voter turnout has fallen significantly compared to the past midterm elections. In Bridgeport, for example, 20,263 people cast their votes this year — 13.6% below the average turnout at the Midterms since 2002.

Ben Proto, chairman of the state Republican Party, said he disagrees that confidence in Democrat victories has prompted some voters to sit out this year’s midterms. He pointed to Democrat Jahana Hayes’ narrow victory in the 5th Circuit race for the congressional seat.

Turnout was down this year in Meriden and Waterbury, two towns where 5th Ward voters live, despite the hard-fought race.

“People don’t stay home because [they think] Someone will win, I don’t need it [to] appear,” said Proto. “People stay home because they don’t feel inspired by their leaders.”

Laura Smits, president of the League of Women Voters of Connecticut, said the drop is a testament to how difficult it can be for the city’s voters to get the polls. It can mean taking the bus, finding childcare, and taking time off work.

“People think, ‘Oh, why can’t everyone show up to vote on election day?’ Well, it’s not as easy as you think,” Smits said.

Connecticut is currently one of only a handful of states that doesn’t allow early voting. The League and other civic organizations have lobbied this year to change that, pushing ahead with a voting measure that paves the way for lawmakers to allow early access to vote. The measure was passed in the November 8 elections with the support of about 60% of voters.

Smits said increasing voter choices would help more people get involved in the political process.

“I think it’s going to be great to give people more options and more convenience to vote when they want and when they can, as opposed to ‘you have to vote that one day,'” she said.

Nationally, turnout this year was typical of midterm elections, although Connecticut has seen higher voter turnout in recent decades — 81% in 1970. The last midterm election in 2018 was another outstanding year with 65% of registered voters casting ballots. This election included an open race for governor. National politics also encouraged voter participation from both major parties.

Steven Moore, a political scientist at Wesleyan University, said this year’s turnout of 57.6% wasn’t all that bad.

“For a non-general election, it’s relatively good – showing clear commitment,” Moore said. “Voter turnout was a lot higher in 2020, but that’s definitely pretty good, especially for an out-of-cycle election.”

In non-presidential years, an average of about 61% of all voters in the state have voted in the general election since 1990. Turnout is typically higher during the presidential years, averaging nearly 78% over the past three decades.

Chelsea O’Donnell was at the Farmington election with her two young children in tow. “It’s important for them to see how our democracy works,” she said. “You will choose one day.”

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