Voter turnout climbs

nickdefiesta-nhvelectionday-2
Photo by Nick Defiesta.

The real winner of Election Day 2013 was the city of New Haven — at least according to data released yesterday on voter turnout for this year’s municipal election. So many more voters went to the poll in 2013 than 2011 that the losing candidate, Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, won more votes than outgoing mayor John Destefano Jr.

“As a whole, the New Haven people came out to vote, and that really is to their credit,” said Kim Hynes, senior organizer for Common Cause in Connecticut, a nonpartisan coalition that works alongside the New Haven Votes effort.

About 29 percent of registered voters in New Haven turned out to vote for the 2013 municipal elections held last week — nearly a five percent increase in turnout from 2011 and over 10 percent since 2009, according to the official figures released by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. The recent uptick in voter turnout has been attributed to a combination of factors, including the lack of an incumbent mayor, the institution of new voting practices, demographic shifts and the successful get-out-the-vote efforts. Local leaders said the surge in new voters points to a positive civic future for the Elm City.

“Voter turnout is usually driven by what is on the ballot,” said Secretary of the State Spokesman Av Harris. “New Haven had an open seat for mayor for the first time in 20 years … and contested races tend to bring out more voters.”

Mark Abraham ’04, executive director of DataHaven — a nonprofit formed to help make data more accessible for the Greater New Haven area — agreed that the lack of an incumbent drove more voters to the polls. Since candidates for mayor entered the race earlier than they had in 2011, the longer political process generated more excitement and discussion of the candidates’ platforms, Abraham said.

Since candidates for mayor entered the race earlier than they had in 2011, and the longer political process generated more excitement and discussion of the candidates’ platforms, Abraham said.

This was also the first year that Connecticut allowed eligible residents to participate in Election Day registration due to a new law — Public Act 12-56 — which passed the Conn. State Legislature in May 2012.

“By nature, people procrastinate. People are busy. The window of registration goes by, and they don’t realize it,” Hynes said. “But now, if Election Day comes and they are eligible, they can now go out and vote.”

Two hundred and two New Haven residents took advantage of this new policy, registering and casting their ballots on Election Day, almost half of which were Yale students, according to Volunteer Registrar Whitney Nelson. New Haven saw the highest number of voters in any Conn. municipality registering to vote on the same day.

Still, Abraham said that since it was only a few hundred voters — many of who were Yale students — the impact of same-day voters was not too significant.

Harris said that although same-day registration did not have a large impact on this year’s municipal election, he anticipates that next year will be the “real test” for the practice since he foresees there will be double the number of voters.

Another factor that may have contributed to the stronger voter turnout is the changing demographic of the New Haven population, Abraham said. He noted that, as more middle-class, young families have begun moving to the city, the percentage of active voters has increased.

In addition, groups such as New Haven Votes have looked to improve existing residents’ awareness about elections as a means of boosting turnout. Grassroots efforts such as holding open forums, hosting candidate fairs and distributing pamphlets are among those Hynes attributed to the positive trend in the past few election cycles.

Although New Haven has seen a steady rise in voters, Connecticut as a whole has been largely stagnant in its roughly 30 percent turnout rate. As a result, Connecticut plans to roll out an online registration option for all individuals with a Connecticut driver’s license this January.

“Our goal is to make it easier to participate in democracy,” Harris said. “We want everyone who can vote to be able to vote.”

The town of Bridgewater reported the highest turnout at 77.39 percent, with Hartford having the lowest at 5.21 percent.

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