Westport voters not flocking to primary polls so far
Published 4:46 pm, Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Amid calls for change by candidates from both political parties, a bipartisan warhorse -- low voter turnout -- appears to be stalking Tuesday's primary in Westport so far.
The town clerk's office reported that about 10 percent of registered voters in both parties were expected to cast their ballots in the contests for state and federal offices.
As of noon, about 1,100 voters among registered Democrats and Republicans had cast ballots. A total of 6,311 Democrats and 4,990 Republicans are eligible to vote in their respective primaries in Westport.
Republican Registrar of Voters Judy Raines said the primary turnout is tracking closely with levels recorded in most of Westport's recent primaries.
Short to nonexistent lines at all the polling places appeared to bear out that forecast. The slow voter traffic did not go unnoticed by Nitzy Cohen and Stephen Rubin, the two candidates vying for the Republican nomination for state representative in the 136th Assembly District from Westport.
"It's been very slow," Cohen, the challenger, said of the turnout. "I would have thought we would have more people coming, but it's the middle of the summer, so you never know."
However, Rubin, the party's endorsed candidate, attributed the lack of voters to candidates' campaign styles. "People have been turned by off the negative attitudes that they have been hearing from some of the candidates," he said.
Nonetheless, both Cohen and Rubin said they were confident that voters, in the end, would respond to their messages.
An informal poll conducted of about 10 Republican voters at different polling places found support divided evenly between the two candidates.
Rubin supporters cited his experience as a member of Westport's Representative Town Meeting and general contributions to the town.
"He's done a lot for this community. And he's really done a lot for the Y," said Rob Reeves, CEO of the Westport Weston Family Y.
Conversely, several of Cohen's supporters favored her based on her experience as the founder and president of International Basics, a supplier of creative ingredients to food-processing industries.
"I'm personally for anyone who is about fiscal responsibility," said Alexander Rassias, who will attend Sacred Heart University in Fairfield this fall. "If you can't handle money then you shouldn't be in government."
Cohen and Rubin also gave strong hints about how they would legislate and serve Westport's constituents, if they won the primary and then the November general election. While Rubin emphasized that "you have go across the (political) aisle" to achieve success in Hartford, Cohen countered, "Once I am in Hartford, and if I see that the issue that I'm promoting is not getting enough support in the legislature, I'm going to take it to the electorate."
Moderators at various Westport polling locations reported that this primary, like many others, did not appear to be galvanizing the electorate.
Raines, however, remained hopeful that voter turnout would improve later in the day. Polls in Westport and across the state remain open until 8 p.m.
"In 2008, you had a rush of people voting in the morning from 6 to 9 a.m.," she said. "In today's election you had more voters coming in between 9 a.m. and noon. We're hoping that trend of more voters will continue until the close of the polls."
Still no one at the town clerk's office or anyone at the polls denied that turnout was disappointing.
John Hartwell, who has already secured the Democratic nomination to run for the state Senate from the 26th District in November, was at the Greens Farms Academy polls. He said the lack of voters did not bode well for the nation as a whole.
"We need more people to vote," he said. "This is the time for people to get involved, and when they don't, it's bad for democracy."
Informal polling of Westport voters about other races on the primary ballot indicated that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon, Republican Dan Debicella in the 4th Congressional District, and Democratic candidate for governor Ned Lamont were all running strongly.
For Democratic voters, Lamont's business experience was considered a positive factor.
Meanwhile, in the contest for the GOP's 4th Congressional District nomination, several voters considered Dan Debicella, a state senator from Shelton, to be more electable in November than his two GOP opponents.
"He's a straight-shooting, middle-of-the road kind of guy," said Ed Whitney, who is retired. "I think he's got the best chance at beating (incumbent Democrat) Jim Himes, who is a bit too far to the left for me."