All the attention paid to this year’s presidential race has led to a record high number of people registering to vote in a New Jersey primary.
The most recent voter registration data, posted earlier this week by the state Division of Elections, counts more than 5.5 million people registered to vote as of April 30. With the registration deadline still 11 days away, that number could go higher before the state’s June 7 primary. Even without any last-minute registrants, the state’s voter rolls are almost 45,000 larger than the previous high of 5.46 million in May 2013, when the governor’s seat was atop the June primary ballot.
Patrick Murray, founding director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said New Jersey’s increase is mirroring what has been happening across the country.
“Registration always goes up because the population grows. However, we usually see a bigger jump in the fall of a presidential election year,” Murray said. “We’ve seen an earlier ‘bumplet’ this year because of the interest generated by the two parties’ nomination process.”
The candidacy of Republican Donald Trump, who has essentially locked up his party’s nomination, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ continuing effort to deny the Democratic nomination to former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have piqued the interest of the electorate. Gov. Chris Christie’s brief time in that race had also caught the attention of New Jerseyans.
Of course, Jersey’s one-time love affair with Christie has long since passed. A Monmouth poll released Thursday found 70 percent of Republicans likely to vote for Trump, but only 15 percent said the New York businessman should choose Christie as his running mate, while 41 percent said New Jersey’s governor would hurt Trump’s chances in November. On the Democratic side, the most recent Monmouth Poll found 6 in 10 likely voters supporting Clinton, with 32 percent backing Sanders.
New Jersey is considered more blue state than red, despite Christie’s governorship, but a little less than a third of those registered are Democrats. Still, ‘D’s outnumber ‘R’s, less than 20 percent of the electorate, by about 700,000 voters. Those voters who have not affiliated with either party, nearly 2.7 million, nearly match the two major parties combined.
According to the state’s primary rules, a person must be a member of one of the two major parties to vote for its candidates. Unaffiliated voters can declare a party and vote on election day, but few usually do so. That means that, as a practical matter, 2.8 million voters at most are likely to cast primary ballots.
Still, turnout has been dropping steadily. If recent history repeats itself, little more than 2 of every 10 Democrats and Republicans will go to the polls.
“Because both the Democrat and Republican presidential primary races are largely decided, I’m not sure we will see a huge surge over 2012’s primary numbers,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, “though the Sanders campaign may still be fighting in early June and could motivate some folks to get more involved.”
Even if the voting percentage does not rise, the number who vote may increase because more are registered. Total registration was higher at the end of April than in 2012, the last presidential election year, in all but four counties — Camden, Cumberland, Hudson and Sussex. It rose the most in Warren County, by 11 percent, and in Essex, by 10.1 percent.
May 17 is the deadline to register to vote in the June primary. County election offices will be open that evening to handle the procrastinators.