Why did voting drop in some of Connecticut’s big cities?
Around 58% of registered voters in Connecticut took part in the Nov. 8 election, according to preliminary numbers.
That’s about average for the midterms, but in some cities, there was a big drop in voter participation. In Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven, the number of ballots cast was more than 10% below historical midterm election averages, according to an analysis by Connecticut Public.
That means thousands of people didn’t show up. And although Democrats won the races for statewide office, they did so with fewer votes from some of their traditional strongholds.
What happened? Vinnie Mauro Jr., who chairs the New Haven Democratic Town Committee, said changing demographics explain part of the challenge in that city. Newer voters have moved in, and he suspects many aren’t connected enough with 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 perceived this election as less competitive than past midterms, Mauro said.
“We have people in the city who work second shift, third shift,” he said. “If it’s not like, ‘Oh my god, it's neck and neck,’ then people sometimes say, ‘It’s OK this time.’”
Still, voter participation slumped significantly compared to past midterm elections. In Bridgeport, for example, 20,263 people cast ballots this year – 13.6% less than the average participation in midterms going back to 2002.
Ben Proto, chairman of the state Republican Party, said he disagrees that confidence in Democratic wins prompted some voters to sit out this year’s midterms. He pointed to the narrow margin of victory for Democrat Jahana Hayes in the race for the 5th District congressional seat.
Voter participation was down this year in Meriden and Waterbury, two cities where 5th District voters reside, despite the closely contested race.
“People don’t stay home because [they think] somebody’s going to win, I don’t need [to] show up,” Proto said. “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 decline is evidence of how challenging it can be for city voters to get the polls. It can mean taking the bus, finding child care and taking time off work.
“People think, ‘Oh, why can’t everybody show up to vote on Election Day?’ Well, it’s not as easy as you think,” Smits said.
Connecticut is one of only a handful of states that doesn’t allow early voting. The league and other civic organizations campaigned this year to change that, pushing a ballot measure that paves the way for lawmakers to provide early voting access. The measure passed in the Nov. 8 election with support from about 60% of voters.
Smits said increasing options for voters will help more people engage in the political process.
“Giving people more options and more convenience to vote when they want, when they can, as opposed to ‘you have to vote on this one day,’ I think it’s going to be great,” she said.
Statewide, turnout this year was typical for a midterm election, though Connecticut has seen greater participation by voters in recent decades – as high as 81% in 1970. The last midterm, in 2018, was another standout year, with 65% of registered voters casting ballots. That election featured an open race for governor. National politics also stoked participation by voters from both major parties.
Steven Moore, a political analyst at Wesleyan University, said this year’s turnout figure of 57.6% isn’t quite so bad.
“For a non-general election, it’s relatively good – shows some clear engagement,” Moore said. “Turnout was much higher in 2020, but for, especially, an off-cycle election, that’s definitely pretty good.”
In years when there was no presidential race on the ballot, an average of about 61% of all voters in the state participated in general elections going back to 1990. Turnout is typically higher during presidential years, averaging close to 78% over the last three decades.
Chelsea O’Donnell was at the Farmington polls with her two toddlers in tow. “It’s important for them to see how our democracy works,” she said. “They’ll be voting one day.”