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April 3, 2024

Biden and Trump win CT primaries; Many ‘uncommitted’ votes

SHAHRZAD RASEKH / CT MIRROR Tom and Lorna Dwyer of West Hartford cast their votes for the presidential primary.

Connecticut’s presidential primary was moved up weeks earlier than previous election cycles, but not early enough to draw the interest of many voters well aware that President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump had already clinched their parties’ nominations.

Shortly after polls closed at 8 p.m., The Associated Press called it for Biden and Trump in their respective primaries, which saw low turnout in both early voting and on Election Day. Connecticut was one of four states holding primaries on Tuesday, along with neighboring states New York and Rhode Island as well as Wisconsin.

At 11:30 p.m., with about 80% of the Democratic primary ballots counted, The Associated Press reported that Biden won with about 85% of the vote, with 11.4%, or nearly 7,000 voters, uncommitted. On the Republican side, with about 92% reporting, Trump won with 78% of the vote, with Nikki Haley taking about 14%.

State leaders were hoping Connecticut would have more influence in presidential primaries than it has in the past decade. Since 2012, Connecticut held its primary on the last Tuesday in April, with the exception of 2020 due to the pandemic. The General Assembly voted to move it up four weeks. But Biden and Trump locked up the nominations before voters in the state made it to the polls.

Still, the primaries were a gentle test for Connecticut’s first foray into in-person early voting, where people could cast their vote early without an excuse. There were nearly 18,000 votes cast ahead of Tuesday, according to the Secretary of the State.

“Early voting, a historic first for Connecticut,” said Stephanie Thomas, the secretary of the state. “Pretty low turnout in general, but I thought it was a resounding success. We had over 17,000 people come and vote early across the state.”

With nothing at stake, why did people vote?

“This isn’t a competitive primary, so a lot of people have been voting for different reasons,” Thomas said. “Some people think it’s important to vote in every election, as I do. Some wanted to be a part of history. Some towns reported having a line on the first day of early voting.”

And for others, it was a protest vote — a way to oppose the major party candidates by casting a ballot for other candidates who either dropped out or are polling low or voting for an “uncommitted” slate.

Uncommitted was an option in both the Democratic and Republican primaries in Connecticut, but activists have largely used it as a vehicle in states across the country to send a signal about their frustration surrounding Biden’s handling of the Israel-Gaza war.

With no major surprises, the biggest question mark of the night was how many in Connecticut will vote uncommitted or for a candidate not named Biden or Trump, who both have low approval ratings.

Given the lack of influence in this year’s primary season, Connecticut officials hope to revisit moving it up much earlier in the calendar like they did in the 2000s.

“I think at the end of the day … we should move our primary up even further up into the calendar, into March,” Connecticut Republican Party chairman Ben Proto said. “Hopefully by 2028, they’ll figure out it’s the appropriate thing to do.”

But this year, voters will once again get a Biden-Trump matchup. Democrats have carried Connecticut in every general election since 1988.

“When all is said and done, Joe Biden and Donald Trump are going to be their party’s nominees,” Proto said. “And we’ll see what happens as we go through the general election.”

The debut of early voting in Connecticut

A new era of ballot access began at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, March 26, the first minute of early voting in the state. Connecticut was one of the last four states that had resisted the trend toward in-person voting ahead of Election Day. 

There were four days of early voting for the presidential primary: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Municipal buildings were closed on Good Friday. With the nominations settled, the parties made little effort to publicize the early voting — or the primaries.

The greatest number of early votes were cast in Hamden, a New Haven suburb with 34,000 active voters. About 1,200 people voted early there, which Thomas attributed to postcards local officials mailed publicizing the early voting.

There will be seven days of early voting for any state, legislative or congressional primaries on Aug. 13, and 14 days before the general election in November.

Thomas said she will debrief local election officials about early voting in a conference call on Wednesday. The state has provided only $5 million for the added expense of early voting, about half the projected cost.

Comptroller Sean Scanlon, who co-chaired the Biden campaign in Connecticut in 2020, said a low-turnout Tuesday primary would signify nothing about the interest of the electorate in the general election rematch between Biden and Trump.

“I don’t think this primary is particularly important to a lot of people,” Scanlon said. “But the November election is, and I think that people are seeing the clear choice that they face and that we face as a country today. And that choice in my mind couldn’t be clearer. And I think that even for people who don’t show up to vote today, that’s not an indication that they’re not going to show up in November.”

Connecticut’s protest vote

The GOP ballot listed Trump and three candidates no longer running: Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida; Haley, former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador; and Ryan Binkley, a Texas clergyman.

The Democratic ballot listed Biden and three others: Marianne Williamson, who ran four years ago; Dean Phllips, who dropped out on March 6; and Cenk Uygur, a Turkish-American politician.

“Uncommitted” was the last choice on each ballot.

In 2020, the Democratic primary was twice-delayed by the pandemic and held in August after Biden and Trump had locked up their nominations.

Biden won the Democratic primary with 84.87% of vote, trailed by two candidates who had suspended campaigning: Bernie Sanders at 11.54% and Tulsi Gabbard at 1.31%. The vote for uncommitted was 2.28%.

With only one opponent, Trump faced more dissent. He won with 78.42% of the vote over Rocky De La Fuente, who had 7.41%. The vote for uncommitted was 14.16%.

The “Vote Uncommitted CT” campaign started in earnest several weeks ago, motivated in part by the movement that began in Michigan’s presidential primary in February. More than 100,000 Democratic primary voters in Michigan went with uncommitted, ultimately nabbing two delegates.

A coalition of groups pushing for a lasting ceasefire in Gaza said they had dozens of volunteers urging voters in Connecticut to vote uncommitted in the Democratic Party. They surpassed their goal on Tuesday night of getting at least 6,000 people to vote uncommitted in the state.

Organizers noted that the push in Connecticut to protest against Biden was a bit easier than the Tuesday primary in New York since that state does not have an uncommitted ballot line. Activists in New York were urging voters to leave their ballots blank.

“I think any amount of votes against an incumbent should be a big warning sign. I think ignoring the Democratic base is a very dangerous strategy for them to take,” said Sam Pudlin, who was working with organizations on this effort.

Gov. Ned Lamont was dismissive of the campaign to cast votes for uncommitted in the Democratic primary to signify displeasure with Biden’s support for Israel after the terrorist attack by Hamas and Israel’s invasion of Gaza, calling it a waste of votes and time.

Other officials in the state argued that there won’t be much to extrapolate from a low-stakes primary, even with a potentially sizable protest vote.

“There is nothing contested. It’s a foregone conclusion,” Vinnie Mauro, the Democratic chair of New Haven, where Democrats typically get the most votes in statewide elections. “I don’t think anybody should read into anything as a litmus test.”

Staff writer Erica Phillips contributed to this report.

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