News Column

Low Turnout Expected in New Jersey Primaries

June 4, 2013

Jan Hefler

Primary elections in New Jersey will be held Tuesday, cakewalks for Gov. Christie and many other incumbents, but don't feel too embarrassed if you are a voter and didn't know.

Despite a civic duty, the vast majority of registered voters normally don't bother to show up for the primaries, though they may be the only time they have a choice when districts are heavily controlled by one party.

"There's a lack of competitive primary elections throughout the state," said Brigid Harrison, a political science and law professor at Montclair State University.

In most of these races, there are no contests or the challengers are a long shot, Harrison said. As a result, she said that generally "people will stay home -- there's nothing to drive them to the polls."

In Burlington County -- the only place in the region that has contested primaries for county government and state Assembly seats -- an average of only 9 percent of registered voters participated in the primaries in the last three years.

Harrison declined to speculate what the turnout might be this year, saying there are many variables.

Turnouts are usually higher when there is a presidential or gubernatorial primary, said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.

But Gov. Christie's popularity and front-runner status in his bid for reelection will likely translate to a low turnout, Dworkin said. "If Christie doesn't have a competitive fight, then what's the motivation to vote?" he said.

Both Christie and his presumed gubernatorial challenger, Democrat Barbara Buono of Middlesex County, are endorsed by their parties but are opposed in the primaries. Dworkin said neither of their challengers is considered a true threat.

Seth Grossman, an Atlantic County lawyer who has garnered support from various tea party groups, is Christie's challenger. He raised about $11,480 for his campaign, while Christie generated $6.5 million, according to election reports.

Sen. Buono's rival, East Orange mayoral aide Troy Webster, also is not a serious candidate, Dworkin said. Insiders say he is running to complete the ticket of a promising candidate in one of the three most closely watched primary races in the state. "You want to have as many boxes in your column on the ballot filled as you can," Dworkin explained.

Webster agreed to appear at the top of the ticket with Mark Alexander, a law professor who worked as an adviser to Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign, according to the political insiders.

Alexander is challenging veteran State Sen. Nia Gill in the Democratic primary in Essex County.

Longtime State Sens. Raymond Lesniak (D, Union) and Joe Kyrillos (R., Monmouth) are also being challenged in competitive races, Harrison said. She said all three races carry the "possibility of knocking off powerful entrenched legislators."

The three races have "credible challengers who have not only professional credentials, but they were able to raise significant amounts of money."

Donna Obe, a financial adviser, is opposing Lesniak, while tea party activist Leigh-Ann Bellew is challenging Kyrillos, a close Christie ally.

In Burlington County, the West Jersey Tea Party has thrown its support to candidates for county sheriff, county freeholder, and two state Assembly seats.

The county Republican Committee, which for decades has controlled county government, is endorsing Sheriff Jean Stanfield of Westampton and Freeholder Joseph Donnelly of Cinnaminson, who have raised a total of $228,360 for their campaigns.

The challengers, running under the banner "Republicans4Burlco," are Bill Moore of Edgewater Park for sheriff and Stephen "Lance" Silver of Medford, who reported raising a total of a little more than $300.

Bill Layton, chairman of the GOP committee, questioned the seriousness of the challengers, saying they have not raised much money and have not delivered a compelling message.

Bill Haney, founder of the tea party group, said the challengers offer "a more conservative alternative."

In the Seventh Legislative District, the GOP committee is endorsing Jeffrey Banasz of Moorestown and Anthony Ogozalek Jr. of Delran, while the challengers are Conni Hare Murray of Moorestown and Joe Siano of Burlington City.

In the Eighth District, the committee-endorsed candidates are Assemblyman Chris Brown and Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, both of Evesham. They are opposed by Scott Fay of Medford and Gary Jacques of Westampton.

At the polls

Polls are open Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Only registered Republicans or Democrats may vote in their respective primaries. Unaffiliated voters can declare their affiliation that day and cast their ballots.

For more information, contact the Election Boards in Burlington at 609-265-5062; in Camden at 856-401-8683; and in Gloucester at 856-384-4500, or the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission at 1-888-313-3532.

Contact Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JanHefler. Read her blog, "Burlco Buzz," at www.philly.com/BurlcoBuzz.

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(c)2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Source: Copyright Philadelphia Inquirer (PA) 2013


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