It’s primary Election Day in New Jersey. Here’s what to expect

With few contested races, Tuesday’s primary contests aren’t expected to mobilize large numbers of voters to head to the polls.

Polls opened at 6 A.M in Cherry Hill, N.J. on Election Day. (Miguel Martinez for WHYY)

Polls opened at 6 A.M in Cherry Hill, N.J. on Election Day. (Miguel Martinez for WHYY)

Yes, New Jersey voters just picked assembly members and state senators two years ago during the gubernatorial election. But a couple of things have changed since that time. Most importantly, the updated census numbers forced legislative districts to be redrawn.

That is why all 120 seats in the New Jersey Legislature are up for grabs this year. Tuesday’s primary election will solidify the candidates for November.

Polls will open at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Though you have to be registered to a political party to participate in the primary, you can declare a party at your polling precinct.

Of the 40 legislative districts in the state, 35 have unopposed incumbents. Five districts have contested primaries. Two in South Jersey, two in northwestern New Jersey, and one in Essex County.

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Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovitch Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, calls this an “off, off election cycle” because it’s only the seats in the Legislature at the top of the ballot. There’s no statewide contest like a governor’s race and there’s no federal race like president or congressional campaign. He said it won’t be a surprise if turnout will be at its lowest compared to other cycles.

“Historically, we can say that about 7 or 8% of New Jersey’s registered voters typically cast ballots in elections like this one,” he said, adding that the percentage is about 500,000 voters. “[That’s] not a lot in a state of six and a half million voters.”

Rasmussen said it’s not just voters that lack interest in the primary, but candidates themselves citing the number of unchallenged incumbents. He said more people will likely start paying attention after Tuesday when the contests between the two dominant political parties are set.

For example, state Sen. Vin Gopal from Monmouth County is expected to be in a tough race against Republican Steve Dnistrian, a businessman from Colts Neck.

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But, he said, those are not the type of contests that are being followed for now.

“It’s really mostly a case of Republicans deciding for themselves who can out-conservative each other and who is maybe mainstream enough to take on the Democrats in the fall,” said Rasmussen. “Those are the kind of questions they’re asking in deep South Jersey and up in Morris and Sussex [counties.]”

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