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Experts Weigh In On 2018 Connecticut Primary Turnout As Voters Head To Polls

Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public Radio
Outside a polling place at the New Haven Free Public Library. Polls will be open to registered Republican and Democratic voters from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on August 14.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill expects voter turnout in Tuesday’s statewide primary elections to be greater than the 20-to-25 percent of the party-affiliated voters that usually come out for the August primaries.

Merrill acknowledged that people might not be paying as much attention to the races, mostly because the August primaries happen when people are trying to squeeze in a last bit of summer vacation. But, because of cybersecurity threats and Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Merrill thinks there’s more urgency surrounding the right to vote this election cycle.

“For the first time, people are trying to find out how elections actually work,” Merrill said. "I get asked all the time, ‘Did this really happen? How are you protecting our votes?’ The answer is, ‘We are.’ The Russians did not get into our voter registration voter registry, but we’re going to be very vigilant and I hope it means that people will turnout just to prove them wrong: that they cannot impact American feelings about their elections and confidence in the election system.”

Merrill said that deeper interest in the ballot process is shown in the rise in voter registration since the 2016 presidential election. Her office recently announced that over 275,114 new voters have registered, including 125,298 affiliated with the two major parties.

More than 43,000 people between 18 and 24 years old are among the newly registered voters.

Dr. Khalilah Brown-Dean, an associate professor of political science at Quinnipiac University, said that they were most likely motivated by a “Trump effect” following the outcome of the 2016 election.

But not everyone is driven to the polls by that. For a majority of the black and Hispanic voters participating in the primary elections, Brown-Dean says that they will vote with basic quality of life issues in mind.

“If you look at the key policy challenges in Connecticut, it’s not just the U.S. but in Connecticut, those are policies that have a disproportionate impact on these communities of color and on working class people,” Brown-Dean said. “The things like access to jobs, public education, the big cutbacks we’ve seen in the state on mental health access, addiction services.”

She said that Republican gubernatorial candidates have essentially ceded urban centers to the Democrats—who have Ned Lamont and Joe Ganim actively campaigning there.

The Quinnipiac professor also pointed to the backing that down-the-ballot candidates like Eva Bermudez-Zimmerman (running for lieutenant governor) and Jahana Hayes (5th Congressional District) have. They’ve been endorsed by Connecticut’s major labor unions.

“And now, you have labor involved, which traditionally has a more racially and ethnically diverse base,” Brown-Dean said. “Getting those kind of organizations to get people to the polls is important.”

Credit Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
A voter checks in at a polling place at the New Haven Free Public Library Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, if voters experience issues at the polls when they’re open from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm Tuesday, they can receive help from trained legal volunteers.

The Washington D.C.-based Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is one of the organizations behind the Election Protection hotline.

“These problems may include someone coming to the polling place and finding that their name is not on the register, or not knowing what polling place to go to, or finding out that for some reason their vote is not being able to be counted,”  said Ezra Rosenberg, the co-director of the Committee's Voting Rights Project. “What they should do is call 866-OUR-VOTE.”

For those who call the Election Protection hotline with language needs, Rosenberg said support is available through affiliated services to voters who speak Spanish, Arabic, and several different Asian languages.

Frankie Graziano’s career in broadcast journalism continues to evolve.

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