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Changing Dates For Primary Elections Has Drawbacks

Hartford Courant Editorial

July 30, 2012

Heat and vacations help make August "a terrible time to have a primary" election, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said this week. So he's going to ask the legislature to change the dates once again to June for congressional primaries and to September for legislative primaries.

Don't set those months in concrete just yet, governor. Changing the dates might cause more trouble than it's worth.

Mr. Malloy is obviously worried about disappointing voter turnout, which was around 20 percent on average for the Aug. 10, 2010, primary, in which he took part.

Will voters flock to the polls this year for some competitive U.S. Senate, congressional and legislative primaries on Aug. 14? It's anybody's guess.

But a look back suggests that more potent factors than the date are at work in turning on and turning out voters for primary elections.

A Courant editorial two years ago quoted a blogger whose research showed that August primaries were historically no worse and often better at attracting voters than September ones. Consider the August 2006 Democratic U.S. Senate primary contest between Ned Lamont and Joseph I. Lieberman. It drew 53 percent of the party's registered voters.

Compelling races, then, are more likely to attract voters than a particular spot on the calendar. And so might ease of voting be a magnet.

Connecticut took a step in the right direction this year when the General Assembly passed legislation authorizing Election Day registration a proven turnout booster. Same-day registration goes into effect in Connecticut next year.

Give voters a good show, make it easy to get in, and they will come.

The last time the legislature switched primary dates from September to August lawmakers on the winning side argued that holding it in September chopped too much time out of the general election campaign. When a June primary was proposed, incumbents complained, understandably, that they wouldn't have as much time as their challengers to campaign.

In addition, the changes suggested by Mr. Malloy could have an adverse impact on the election calendar, increase costs to towns and confuse voters.

Let's not go over the same ground again.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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