Turnout light in New Jersey primary

June 2, 2009 12:57:21 PM PDT
At the Moose Lodge in Point Pleasant, there were more antlers than voters. In Jersey City, many people were unaware there was an election going on. And in Sussex County, the biggest ballot box commotion came when a poll worker bumped her head.

To say turnout was light in Tuesday's primary election in New Jersey was an understatement. Bob Norton, a poll worker at the Moose Lodge, summed it up in one word: "Dead."

"It's really disappointing," he said. "The ones who don't vote are the ones who complain the loudest about how things are."

This despite a hard-fought Republican primary pitting a crime-busting former federal prosecutor against a conservative mayor from north Jersey and a state assemblyman.

Anthony Alexander cast his ballot in Jersey City around 10 a.m. Poll workers told him he was the 12th voter to do so since polls opened four hours earlier.

"It's real light," he said. "Most people don't even know there's an election going on."

The Republican primary pitted former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie against former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan and Assemblyman Rick Merkt. The winner will challenge Gov. Jon Corzine, who faced token opposition in the Democratic primary.

There were also mayoral primaries in communities including Camden, Atlantic City and Edison and several contested state Assembly races.

Many Republican voters, without being prompted, said they were looking forward to the fall general election so they could vote against Corzine.

"All I know is I don't want Corzine anymore," said Barbara Spanola of Brick, a state worker still seething over the unpaid furlough she had to take recently as part of Corzine's effort to deal with a budget shortfall.

Karen Byrne, a mortgage banker who voted for Lonegan, said one of the reasons she did so was because "he's not Corzine."

"We have highest-in-the-nation taxes, schools that don't work, taxes that don't fund those schools, unemployment, a poor business climate," she said. "It's sickening."

Many voters interviewed Tuesday said they feel New Jersey is on the wrong track, a sentiment that usually spells trouble for an incumbent.

But Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science at Montclair State University, said many voters also know the entire nation is experiencing hard times, not just New Jersey.

"While people are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the state, that sentiment is linked inextricably with the economy," she said. "I don't see a whole lot of evidence that most voters believe that Christie will be better able to handle the economy, and if the economy improves over the next five months, so too will Corzine's approval.

"In general, I get a sense that while people may not approve of Corzine, there is not a passionate hatred of him," she said. "Their opinions are soft and malleable, and can change as the economy improves."

Harry Green, of Atlantic City, praised the governor for appointing women and minorities to his administration.

"I think we are one of the most progressive states in the nation on issues like smoking and gay marriage," he said. "He (Corzine) thinks out of the box in looking for ways to get the economy going."