Midterm primaries follow registration surge

Almost a quarter of a million new voters could head to the polls statewide this election season, which kicks off Tuesday in a handful of local and statewide primaries at a time when new registrations dwarf the figures seen in the last two midterm cycles.

A whopping 242,635 residents registered to vote between Nov. 9, 2016, and Aug. 10, 2018. Neither of the previous two midterm seasons saw new registrations reaching 100,000, according to data from the Connecticut secretary of the state's office.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said several factors led to the uptick, and it remains to be seen how it will impact turnout, which is "notoriously low" for primaries.

The biggest reason for the surge is likely logistical, rather than political, she said. Voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles has been an "extremely successful program," Merrill said.

She added that "our online voter registration system is now really humming along."

Merrill said surprise at President Donald Trump's election was also a big part of the equation for both sides of the aisle.

"I think that has galvanized people," Merrill said, pointing out that 40,000 residents between 18 and 24 years old had registered since November 2016, about twice the usual number heading into an election.

She also noted the ratio of registrations for Democrats and Republicans was in line with previous elections. More than 77,000 Democrats registered since the day Trump was elected, while 37,915 Republicans registered. In both previous midterm periods, Democratic registration roughly doubled that of the GOP.

The state saw almost triple the number of unaffiliated registrations — 121,146 — compared to the previous midterm cycle.

As of Friday, the state had more than 760,000 registered Democrats and 450,000 registered Republicans. More than 850,000 registered voters are unaffiliated.

Merrill, on the road checking in with town registrars, said those numbers were still climbing as Monday's noon deadline approached for primary voting registration.

Connecticut is typically one of the top 10 states for the percentage of voter turnout, Merrill said. During midterms, voter turnout has exceeded 50 percent, while recent presidential election years have hovered around 75 percent turnout.

Connecticut allows same-day registration on Election Day, but not for primaries.

Merrill said absentee ballots were coming in steadily compared to previous years; in 2014, more than 41,000 people voted with absentee ballots. But Merrill said she is fighting for "no-fault absentee voting," which would allow anyone to file an absentee ballot regardless of the reason, "to give better options to people."

Merrill added that Connecticut has undertaken several cybersecurity measures since 2016, such as implementing double-authentication for emails; working with town registrars and clerks to ensure routers are secure and passwords are updated, and partnering with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI on a range of protections from cyberattacks.

38th District

Three progressives are in the hunt for the Democratic nomination to face state Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, who's held the 38th District seat in the House of Representatives for the last four years.

All three candidates — Baird Welch-Collins, Patrick Murphy and Nick Gauthier — grew up in Waterford.

Welch-Collins, the Democratic Party-backed candidate, argues his municipal experience and background in education make him the candidate with the best shot to win. Soon to be a social studies teacher at Norwich Free Academy, Welch-Collins sits on the Waterford Representative Town Meeting and has served as treasurer for the Flood and Erosion Control Board.

Murphy, a nurse manager for Community Health Center Inc., earned enough convention votes for a primary ballot spot. Murphy, who leads teams of nurses and medical assistants at three clinics, says his experiences in nursing and leadership have enabled him to work on complex issues in which residents often feel the impact of public policy.

Gauthier, who gathered more than 460 signatures to petition his way onto the ballot, serves as field and engagement coordinator for the Eastern Connecticut Area Labor Federation in the state branch of the AFL-CIO. Gauthier says his experience as a grass-roots organizer and activist could help galvanize support for progressive stances.

43rd District

With Democratic state Rep. Diana Urban not seeking re-election after 18 years in office, Stonington Selectwoman Kate Rotella and longtime firefighter and salesman Chris Donahue will face off in a primary.

The winner will run against Republican Shawn Mastroianni of Stonington borough for the 43rd District seat. The district encompasses Stonington and North Stonington.

Rotella is the purchasing manager for the Capital Region Education Council in Hartford. She served as Waterford's purchasing agent for a decade and was previously Mitchell College's director of finance and purchasing. She's served as a Stonington selectwoman for three years and says her experience in government and budgeting makes her a good fit for the General Assembly.

Donahue works as a sales consultant at Valenti Auto Mall while taking business management courses at Three Rivers Community College. An 11-year member of the fire department, Donahue was elected constable while working with the town committee on the 2017 municipal election, helping spark a passion for politics. Donahue pledged to devote all his time to serving constituents and giving them a voice in Hartford.

Gubernatorial race

Seven men want to take over for outgoing Gov. Dannel Malloy, a two-term Democrat.

The GOP-endorsed candidate is Mark Boughton, who's been mayor of Danbury since 2002. Tim Herbst, the former mayor of Trumbull, earned the second-most votes during May's convention.

The three other candidates are political newcomers hoping to bring their business chops to Hartford: Steve Obsitnik, a Navy veteran and tech entrepreneur; Bob Stefanowski, a Madison business executive; and David Stemerman, a former Greenwich hedge fund manager.

On the Democratic primary ballot, Greenwich businessman and former senatorial and gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont faces Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim.

Lieutenant Governor

Susan Bysiewicz is Lamont's running mate in a Democratic primary against Eva Bermudez Zimmerman.

Bysiewicz, endorsed by the Democrats, served as Connecticut secretary of state for more than 10 years.

Bermudez Zimmerman has a background in activism and organizing and previously served on the the Newtown Legislative Council.

The GOP has backed state Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, in a three-way primary to see who will face either Bysiewicz or Bermudez Zimmerman.

Markley faces Jayme Stevenson, who's serving her eighth year as Darien's first selectwoman, and Erin Stewart, who was elected mayor of New Britain in 2013 at the age of 26.

Treasurer

GOP-endorsed Thad Gray, chief investment officer of Abbott Capital Management LLC, faces three-term state Sen. Art Linares of Westbrook, who co-founded the solar company Greenskies.

The Democratic primary pits public pension attorney and former Hartford City Council President Shawn Wooden against Dita Bhargava, vice chair of the state Democratic Party who was a hedge fund portfolio manager before becoming an advocate for gender and economic equality.

Comptroller

Kurt Miller, serving his fourth term as first selectman of Seymour and backed by the Republican Party, battles Mark Greenberg, a Litchfield businessman who's founded a telecommunications company and a real estate management firm.

The winner will face incumbent Kevin Lembo, a Democrat.

U.S. Senator

In a primary to see who will face Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, some area GOP voters will have a choice between Manchester window washer and bar owner Matthew Corey and Dominic Rapini, a longtime successful salesman and sports coach who lives in Branford.

Attorney General

Susan Whitman Hatfield, an attorney and registered nurse, received the GOP endorsement and is up against Greenwich attorney John Shaban, who served as state representative for Easton, Redding and Weston from 2011 to 2017.

State Rep. William Tong of Stamford is backed by the Democratic Party in a three-way primary. Tong faces state Senate Deputy Majority Leader Paul Doyle and Chris Mattei, the former chief of the Financial Fraud and Public Corruption Unit in the U.S. Attorney's Office.

b.kail@theday.com

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