Merrill says August primary turnout drops slightly from 2010 totals

Just under 28 percent of Connecticut’s Republicans and only 19 percent of Democrats cast ballots in last week’s primaries, Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill announced Thursday.

Turnout for both parties was down slightly from 2010, though the numbers remain much higher than when Connecticut last held its primaries in September.

Merrill, Connecticut’s chief elections official, reported that 113,538 out of 409,723 Republicans participated in the primary, representing just under 28 percent.

Meanwhile, 138,004 Democrats out of 717,241 registered statewide came out to vote Tuesday of last week.

“Democrats and Republicans throughout Connecticut had their voices heard and made a choice about who will represent their parties on the ballot in November,” Merrill said.  “As we start down the road to the general election, I urge all those who are eligible to register to vote, research the candidates, and come out on November 6 to cast a ballot.”

The 5th Congressional District saw the highest voter turnout, with 32.3 percent of Republicans and 23.5 percent of Democrats casting ballots. That district also featured heated battles for the congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy.

State Sen. Andrew W. Roraback of Goshen won a four-way contest for the GOP nomination, while former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire won a three-way fight for the Democratic nod.

State House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, was an early favorite in the 5th District Democratic contest until his campaign was derailed by a scandal over hidden campaign contributions that led to the arrest of two of his top campaign staffers.

Nearly 30 percent of Republicans and 25 percent of Democrats voted in the primaries in 2010, when both parties faced high-profile statewide contests for their respective gubernatorial nominations.

Dannel P. Malloy defeated Greenwich businessman in the Democratic primary, and then went on to win the general gubernatorial election. On the Republican side in 2010, Greenwich businessman Tom Foley defeated then Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele and Oz Griebel, director of the Greater Hartford Metro Alliance.

This time around both parties again faced primaries for statewide office, specifically to settle nominations for U.S. Senate. On the Democratic side, Murphy, from the 5th District, defeated former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz. World Wrestling Entertainment co-founder Linda McMahon captured the Republican nomination with a win over former 5th District Congressman Christopher Shays.

“Since Connecticut’s primaries moved to August, a higher percentage of party members have shown up to vote,” Merrill said.  “Still, the names on the ballot and current events drive turnout more than the date of the election.”

For example, Merrill noted that in a particularly high-profile race, the 2006 primary for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate between Lamont and  incumbent Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, nearly 43 percent of Connecticut’s Democrats cast ballots. Lamont won the primary — the first held in August rather than September — but Lieberman ran as a petitioning candidate and captured the general election.

Comparatively, the last time there was a statewide primary in September was in 1998, when Democratic turnout was less than 19 percent. But that race also was considerably lower in profile, with Bysiewicz defeating former state Rep. Ellen Scalettar for the nomination for secretary of the state.