During an hour of door-to-door campaigning in East Rock last week, state representative candidate Roland Lemar found a lot of empty homes—but not a lot of voters. He found only two constituents to talk to, and told them both that he is “terrified” all the voters will be out of town during the primary on Aug. 10.
Aug. 10 is a “terrible choice” for a primary date, Lemar (pictured) said in between unanswered doors. Since so many people are out of town in the late summer, it’s been difficult campaigning, and it may mean a low turnout at the polls, he said.
Lemar, an East Rock alderman who’s running for state representative in the 96th General Assembly District, isn’t the only one who’s questioning the wisdom of an August primary. His opponent in the Democratic primary, Debra Hauser, also said it’s a bad time. West Rock Alderman Darnell Goldson, who’s working for two campaigns this season, agreed. Susie Voigt, chair of the Democratic TownCommittee, said the primary should be moved to June, or even May.
During his door-to-door visits last week, Lemar said his campaign has been struggling with the problem of voter vacations all summer. People just aren’t home, he said. He wrote messages on card after card and stuck them through mail slots at empty homes.
“I hate it,” Hauser said of the difficulty of campaigning in August. “It’s deadly.” She said 60 or 70 percent of people are not home during door-to-door campaigning. The primary should be moved to May, she said.
Alderman Goldson, who’s working for the Hauser campaign and for Dan Malloy’s gubernatorial campaign, said he’s seen a similar “not-at-home rate,” and not just for door-knocking but for phone calls as well. “I’ve never seen it that high before,” he said. “[The voters] are out enjoying the weather.”
Goldson said campaign workers have tried going early and going late and even visiting homes on weekends, but still, very few people are home.
Until four years ago, the primary was held in September. It was changed in 2006 after the state legislature decided that September was too close to the general election in November, Town Chairwoman Voigt said. She said she agrees with that reasoning. The party needs more than two months to build unity and raise money after primary battles, Voigt said.
“If I had my way, we’d do this in June,” Voigt said. “I would even live with May.” But not any sooner, she added. “Campaigns run long enough already.”
Every date has its pros and cons, Voigt said. The trouble with August is that college students are out of town and many other people are either planning for, returning from, or on vacation, Voigt said. It’s a “tough time for people to get excited” about an election, she said. “It does not maximize opportunity for voter participation.”
August elections are also unexpected, Voigt said. They’re not part of the popular consciousness, the way the general election in November is, Voigt said. “That’s imprinted in our minds as Americans.”
Then there’s the problem of extreme summer weather. “What if it’s 100 degrees on Tuesday?” Voigt said. That could decrease voter turnout.
Voigt said an August primary could work better if voters have more and easier options for absentee voting or early voting. Maybe all voters who request absentee ballots in the previous election should be sent them automatically in the next election, Voigt suggested.
Nancy Dinardo, the state Democratic party chair, said the original proposal for moving the primary from September was to have it in June. That was rejected by legislators who worried that they would still be in legislative session in June and not have free time to campaign, Dinardo said. “August was a compromise date.”
Dinardo said May might be a good option for a primary. But with “so many factors, it’s not just an easy fix,” she said.
She offered a different theory on why fewer voters are answering the phone: with the rise of caller ID, more and more people are screening their calls.
The real test of the August primary will be voter turnout on the 10th, Dinardo said.