2016 on way to break state voter turnout records

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If previous elections are any indication, Alabama polls are likely to see an infusion of voters on Super Tuesday and again for the general election in November.

Gauging data available through the Secretary of State’s website, which documents voter turnout for various elections since 1986, a clear trend emerges: Alabama voters swamp polls during big elections and tend to stay home for smaller elections.

In 1986, 41 percent of eligible voters flocked to the polls to vote in the gubernatorial primaries in June. Just a few months later, 52 percent showed up to elect Republican Gov. Guy Hunt over Democrat Bill Baxley.

By contrast, only 1 percent of voters showed up to elect an associate justice to the Alabama Supreme Court in June 1988. But the presidential election held only a few months later attracted 56 percent of eligible voters to elect President George H.W. Bush.

In the November 1992 presidential election, 76 percent of eligible voters turned out and 53 percent showed up two years later to elect a governor. Contrarily, only 16 percent made it to the polls for a U.S. Senate run-off in June 1996, and only 20 percent for a June 1998 primary run-off for the governor’s seat.

Fast forward to February 2008. The presidential primary drew more than 42 percent of voters to the polls, while a U.S. Senate election held only a few months later drew little more than 15 percent. Further, the July 2008 primary election for Public Service Commission (PSC) president drew less than 1 percent of eligible voters while the November general election that year brought in nearly 75 percent of registered voters.

The same trend manifested in 2012 – again, less than 1 percent of registered voters showed up for an April primary run-off for PSC President and, again, more than 73 percent of voters showed up that November to elect a president.

This year’s election is likely to be a repeat of the trends of the past. With a presidential election on the horizon, as well as a crowded field of candidates seeking to unseat Sen. Richard Shelby, this year is already set to attract large numbers of voters. Add to that the recent digitization of Alabama’s voter registration protocol and this year could be a record-breaking year in terms of voter turnout.

Secretary of State John Merrill noted that since Jan. 22 more than 61,000 people have used the state’s electronic voter registration platform. The final day to register for the March primary was Monday and nearly 8,000 Alabamians did so.

While not all of those were new voters, the chances are good that a large percentage were.

“I think it’s very significant,” Merrill said of the digital platform and its effect on the number of eligible voters in the state.

Though Merrill doesn’t think turnout will reach the high watermark of November 2008, he does think there will be an influx of voters and it will affect those “down-ballot” races that lack the appeal of a presidential race.

“Having the opportunity to participate carries a lot more weight when people are excited about the election,” Merrill said.

Though it’s too late to register for the upcoming primary, residents can register for the November election up until Oct. 24.

“I think if somebody has taken the time to register to vote, or to update their information, they’re going to come back and vote,” Merrill said. “The most important thing in participating in the electoral process is getting registered. It distinguishes you from other people in our state and that’s what we want. We want every Alabamian to be involved in the process.”

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