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Ask Bob: 2018 Primary Election Turnout Recap

This Lyndonville polling place was once a school, but has since been turned into town offices for Lyndon.
Amy Kolb Noyes
This Lyndonville polling place was once a school, but has since been turned into town offices for Lyndon. In this episode of "Ask Bob," we talk about primary election voter turnout.

Vermont’s primary elections defied conventional wisdom by registering a higher than expected voter turnout. We turn to VPR reporter Bob Kinzel to help us parse the details of this election and what made people turn up at the polls.

Why primaries are when they are

Vermont used to hold primary elections on the second Tuesday in September; now they’re held on the second Tuesday in August. What gives?

Elections were moved up to be in compliance with federal rules to ensure that general election ballots could be sent out to overseas and military voters and be returned in time to be counted. Extra weeks were built in just in case there was ever a recount, because that could take a number of weeks and there'd be no way to meet the overseas ballot deadline under those circumstances.

Another factor is that Vermont uses paper ballots. Other states, such as Massachusetts, hold their primaries in September but they allow overseas military voters to vote electronically. Vermont has a law that says that all voters must use a paper ballot, so the electronic system is not allowed.

Do voters really show up to the polls in August?

Some people felt the middle of August was the worst possible time to hold elections — people are on vacation, nobody's paying attention to these political races. In the past, this has held somewhat true. In 2014, primaries were held at the end of August and voter turnout was 9 percent.

What makes voters turn up for primaries

There's a pretty clear connection between the number of competitive statewide and legislative races and the turnout. In 2010, for instance, there was an open race for governor with five Democrats running, and turnout was 24 percent. In 2016, there was also an open race for governor, and turnout was 26 percent.

Now, this year there wasn't an open gubernatorial race, but five Democrats were running and there were also a number of very spirited state Senate elections. Turnout this year was high: 22 percent.

Is 22 percent voter turnout really 'high'?!

Twenty-two percent is considered strong. But remember that the purpose of primaries is the selection of the major party candidates and it's really a party function. It's different from a general election.

What to expect in November

Both parties are putting a lot of energy into both their House and Senate races, and that could drive voter turnout. We're seeing very competitive races: The Democrats want to elect more House members so they can have a veto-proof majority in that chamber; the Republicans don't want that to happen.

Click here to submit your question to Bob!

Want more answers from Bob? Check out our previous installments of Ask Bob.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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