Holding Primaries in August Could Affect Voter Turnout

As state political parties hold their conventions to endorse candidates, convention also-rans who got at least 15 percent of delegates are gearing up for primaries. This is true of Democratic candidates for US Senate and for the closely watched 5th congressional district. The Republicans’ convention is Friday night and there will likely be candidates who qualify for a primary. The timing of the primaries—in the middle of the summer—can have a significant effect on the results. The August 14th contests, held when average voters are thinking about summer vacations, summer camps, basically everything but politics, is a problem for voter turnout.

The state legislature moved the primary date from September to August, an August primary held for the first time in 2004. The thought behind the move was that a September left too little time for the winning candidates to raise money and campaign before a November election.

In 2008, only about 14 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the primary. In 2010, it was about 25 percent—and that was a year with some fierce, hotly contested state races including governor.

However, Av Harris, spokesman for state Secretary of State Denise Merrill, says high-profile races can overcome challenges in having a summer primary. “In 2006, voter turnout for the primary between [US Sen. Joe] Lieberman and [challenger Ned] Lamont was 43 percent, the highest in years,” Harris said. “So the determining factor for turnout can be determined by who is on the ballot.”

Candidates who are backed by well-organized groups can certainly have an advantage. For instance, state Speaker of the House Chris Donovan is backed by labor in his bid for congress. Unions find a way to get their people to the poll regardless of when the election is held.

As state political parties hold their conventions to endorse candidates, convention also-rans who got at least 15 percent of delegates are gearing up for primaries. This is true of Democratic candidates for US Senate and for the closely watched 5th congressional district. The Republicans’ convention is Friday night and there will likely be candidates who qualify for a primary. The timing of the primaries—in the middle of the summer—can have a significant effect on the results. The August 14th contests, held when average voters are thinking about summer vacations, summer camps, basically everything but politics, is a problem for voter turnout.

The state legislature moved the primary date from September to August, an August primary held for the first time in 2004. The thought behind the move was that a September left too little time for the winning candidates to raise money and campaign before a November election.

In 2008, only about 14 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the primary. In 2010, it was about 25 percent—and that was a year with some fierce, hotly contested state races including governor.

However, Av Harris, spokesman for state Secretary of State Denise Merrill, says high-profile races can overcome challenges in having a summer primary. “In 2006, voter turnout for the primary between [US Sen. Joe] Lieberman and [challenger Ned] Lamont was 43 percent, the highest in years,” Harris said. “So the determining factor for turnout can be determined by who is on the ballot.”

Candidates who are backed by well-organized groups can certainly have an advantage. For instance, state Speaker of the House Chris Donovan is backed by labor in his bid for congress. Unions find a way to get their people to the poll regardless of when the election is held.