Former Secretary of the State Denise Merrill Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Hot weather, lower-profile races and lingering concern over COVID-19 may all contribute to low voter turnout during Tuesday’s primary election in Connecticut, former Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said Monday. 

Democrats and Republicans will head to the polls Tuesday to pick their candidates in a handful of races. Republicans will settle a three-way primary for the party’s U.S. Senate nomination and pick a candidate to run for secretary of the state. Democrats will nominate a secretary of the state candidate and choose a nominee for state treasurer. 

However, Merrill, who served as Connecticut’s top election official for more than a decade, said Monday she expects those races to be decided by a regrettably small number of voters. She estimated that voter turnout may slump as low as 15%.

“There’s still a lot of people that don’t want to go to the polls because of COVID,” Merrill said. “We forget that sometimes but it’s still out there. The weather is a big factor this year,” she said of an ongoing heat wave, “and the lack of a top of the ticket [race] bringing people out, I think those three factors are big.”

Although voter turnout during midsummer primaries is often low, a high-profile race at the top of the ticket can sometimes boost interest. This year Democrats and Republicans have already determined their candidates for the governor’s race: Gov. Ned Lamont will face Republican Bob Stefanowski in a rematch of the 2018 election. 

That leaves the race to represent Connecticut in the U.S. Senate as the biggest draw for many voters and Democrats have already backed Sen. Richard Blumenthal for another term. Republicans will pick between their convention-endorsed candidate, former state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, and two challengers: Leora Levy and Peter Lumaj.

While Levy received an endorsement last week from former President Donald Trump, Merrill was skeptical Monday that the endorsement would move a significant number of Connecticut Republicans to the polls. 

“Eastern Connecticut there are some pockets of strong Trump support. Is that enough to get them out to vote for her as opposed to the Themis Klarides or [Peter Lumaj]?” Merrill said. “[Trump is] becoming less and less a factor as time goes on.”

Low turnout makes election results more unpredictable, Merrill said. 

“There’s no polling being done. So you really don’t have any idea, except based on endorsements. Now, of course, being on row A certainly helps but whether that’s the determining factor, I’m not sure,” she said. “It is all a factor of how good a campaign you’re running. In the end, it’s how many people are on your list that you can get out to vote.”

Merrill was in Hartford Monday, campaigning on behalf of Stephanie Thomas, the Democrats’ convention-endorsed candidate for secretary of the state. Thomas, a state representative from Norwalk, is competing with Maritza Bond, New Haven’s city health director, for the nomination. 

Thomas said it was hard to know what to expect in terms of voter turnout on Tuesday but has found many voters unaware of this week’s primary election. She said the state should finance efforts to make voters aware of elections.

Stephanie Thomas, candidate for secretary of the state Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

“Ads do work, postcards do work, all of it works which is why I support the state financing education around when elections are happening just to drive out turnout because when people are busy, it’s hard to keep up,” Thomas said. 

Merrill said moving the primary to a date earlier in the summer might help engage more voters but would require changing the dates of the town committee processes. 

In addition to the secretary of the state race, Democrats will be deciding on a candidate for state treasurer. They will choose between Erick Russell, a New Haven lawyer who won the endorsement of convention delegates in May, Karen DuBois-Walton, head of New Haven’s housing authority, and Dita Bhargava, a former Wall Street trader.

Meanwhile, Republicans will nominate a secretary of the state candidate, picking between convention-endorsed candidate Dominic Rapini and state Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien.