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Voter turnout dropped to a shockingly low 10% of registered voters and less than 9% of eligible voters for New Jersey's gubernatorial primaries on Tuesday. Previous gubernatorial primary contests in 2001 and 2005 had already languished at 12% and 13% of registered voters, respectively, and Tuesday more than nine in ten eligible voters did not participate.
"Turnout in non-presidential primaries keeps dropping, with the latest disappointing numbers from New Jersey underscoring the problem," said FairVote executive director Rob Richie. "Yet under our current rules, primaries eliminate most potential voter choices on the ballot and effectively determine the winners of most legislative elections."
Fewer voters turned out for Tuesday's hotly-contested GOP gubernatorial primary than in any such contest between 1989 and 2001, according to the Associated Press. When such a tiny portion of the New Jersey electorate is choosing gubernatorial nominees, they can hardly be sure to reflect the will of the voters who will come out for the general election. This is of particular concern when one party dominates and a nominee faces no serious opposition in a general election, as is usually the case for legislative seats at the state level and the U.S. Congress.
"It's time to re-examine elections to explore how to increase turnout in primaries and put more meaningful voter choice in general elections -- and ensure voters are informed about their choices and given full and secure access to the polls," said Richie. States like New Jersey must take seriously the issue of dangerously low participation in our political process, and should consider establishing a commission to study the problem in order to find practical and innovative solutions - solutions like instant runoff voting to help ensure majority support for winning candidates, proportional voting systems that provide fair representation in legislatures, and other reforms that will spur would-be voters to take part in their democracy.