New Jersey Breaks Record For Fewest Voters

The shadow of a voter as he prepared to cast a ballot in Lodi, N.J., on Tuesday. Only 26% of the state's registered voters came out for the off-year election.

New Jersey voters demonstrated record apathy in Tuesday's elections, shattering previous turnout lows thanks to a shortage of competitive races and a district map favoring incumbents.

Roughly 26% of the state's registered voters cast a ballot, according to unofficial county results compiled Wednesday. Of the 5.2 million registered voters in New Jersey, only 1.4 million made it to the polls.

The Wall Street Journal analysis of unofficial county results did not include absentee votes from every county. The state hasn't yet released official

voter turnout numbers.

That paltry turnout breaks the previous record low in 1999, when 31% of registered voters participated in an election featuring only state Assembly races. Readily available state records for election turnout date back to 1924, when 83% percent of registered voters cast ballots in a presidential election year in which President Calvin Coolidge triumphed.

With 120 legislative positions at stake in the Assembly and State Senate, only one seat changed hands Tuesday ” marking a record level of status quo entrenchment in Trenton.

"It is very depressing," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, who argued that noncompetitive elections increase voter distrust in government. "It was absolutely bad for the voters and bad for New Jersey government."

Gov. Chris Christie blamed the legislative map when asking about his inability to alter the political balance in the Legislature, as he had hoped to do. "With the map they have, they won," Christie told reporters while at a Sussex County medical center Wednesday morning.

Only a handful of New Jersey's legislative districts were considered competitive this year, and turnout was especially bad in the counties with safe incumbents.

Essex County had the lowest turnout, with 82,955 out of 198,057 registered voters coming out to the polls, or 18%, county election records show. Hudson County saw just 19% of its voters cast a ballot, and in Passaic County just 22% of registered voters participated.

Even competitive campaigns did little to boost turnout. In Atlantic County ” where there were competitive races and a ballot question on sports betting had local significance ” 34% of voters came to the polls.

Democrats picked up one legislative seat Tuesday largely due to redistricting, with the party rising to 48 seats in the Assembly and

maintaining its hold on 24 state Senate seats.

That new legislative map, completed earlier this year, surpassed the state's previous political boundaries for preserving incumbents. In 2001, the most recent election after redistricting, 14 seats changed hands. Going back further, an analysis by the Monmouth University Polling Institute found that 31 seats shifted in 1991, six in 1981 and 26 in 1971.