With no federal or state-wide candidate on the bill for the 2015 New Jersey State Assembly races, many are predicting that polls will see their lowest numbers since 1999. Only a few competitive districts such as the first and second are likely to receive the kind of attention that might draw out reluctant or apathetic voters, and will see the greatest share of campaign spending.
Though turnout historically sags during years during which there aren’t presidential, congressional or gubernatorial headliners, Political Scientist Patrick Murray says that the state is headed for a “record low” in November with approximately 25% of entitled voters likely to cast their ballot.
The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission’s (ELEC) director Jeff Brindle says that although fewer people vote in primary elections in any year, the 5% turnout for the 2015 might be the sign of an exceptionally stagnant contest in most districts – of the 25% figure, Brindle said
“I would expect that the turnout in November’s election will probably be lower.”
ELEC records show that ballot numbers from entitled voters between assembly-only years ’74, ’79, ‘95 and ’99 saw a steady 45% decrease in that time.
“The political party system in the state has been greatly weakened in recent years and independent groups and special interest PACs are really becoming very influential in elections,” said Brindle, citing the change as one factor in the decline. “That’s all filtering down to the local level.”
Political Scientist Ben Dworkin offered that “[there] are any number of factors that could come into play so far. The fact that there’s no casino referendum could impact turnout, especially in those areas in South Jersey, but the fact that the governor is not on the ballot and has low popularity is also going to have an impact on who comes out to vote.”
Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin agreed that the first and second would not receive a boost from their stalled, highly publicized referendum on new casinos in North Jersey. Though Durkin said that even if the referendum had found its way onto the ballot, he doubts that it would have yielded more robust numbers.
“I trust in the voter where I would think that the voter would separate the candidates with the question,” said Durkin. He added that the districts have also become “more gerrymandered, where there’s less competitive races today than there were in ’99.”
“I’m looking at 25% as the high water mark,” he said.