Editorial: A better primary

More than three-quarters of Wilton’s registered Republicans and Democrats did not vote in last Tuesday’s U.S. Senate primaries. But who could blame them?

It is August, after all. And as we all know, it is assumed around here most people are out of town this time of year, enjoying a nice breeze near a beach or in the mountains — with the thoughts of party politics left snugly back here in Wilton.

So we could look at Tuesday’s turnout of 24% of the 4,195 registered Republicans and 18% of 2,925 Democrats as pretty good. After all, this is an improvement over the 13.5% turnout we saw during Connecticut’s Republican presidential preference primary in April.

It could also be looked at as a waste of time, money and even democracy. Why does Connecticut have to hold two separate primaries during presidential years?

According to Wilton’s registrars of voters, the cost of running the two primaries last week amounted to about $12,000. The largest segment of these expenses is for payment of pollworkers’ time at the polls and their training. This does not include in-kind services received from the town including DPW staff time for posting signs around town, the use of three school buildings, custodial hours at the schools and postage by registrars and the town clerk.

Why does the state make municipalities spend all this money on a process for which so few turn out?

Years ago, the state decided the old September primaries did not leave enough time for the winners before the November election. That is reasonable. But August does not leave enough residents around to participate in their party’s primary.

The presidential primary turnout in April was so low because it was already assumed Mitt Romney was going to get the GOP’s nomination, which he is expected to do next week. If the presidential primary was held with state and other federal office primaries, it would certainly increase the interest and turnout for both — particularly if the race for the presidential nomination was still up in the air as it was in 2008. This would mean having to push the state conventions to the beginning of the year; but it would also mean towns such as Wilton would only have to hold one primary this year. And that would save some money.

In non-presidential years, it would still make more sense to push the state conventions earlier, then hold primaries in the spring or even as late as June, before school gets out, when the public is more engaged than it is during the summer. And, would give the winners more time to prepare for the November election. It would also make the money spent to staff polling locations, print ballots and other costs more economical.

Participation is what makes democracy better. But the state has a responsibility to make participation more appealing than a summer-time afterthought.