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RI primary saw lowest voter turnout in memory

By David Klepper
Associated Press / April 25, 2012
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PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Ho-hum primary contests kept most Rhode Island voters away from the polls for the state's presidential primary and resulted in one of the lowest election turnouts in memory.

Just under 22,600 voters cast a ballot in Tuesday's primary, or about 3 percent of eligible voters in the state, according to election officials.

By contrast, nearly 10 times as many voters participated in the 2008 primary, which featured a hotly contested race between Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and a six-way contest on the Republican side.

The last primary with such tiny turnout was in 1996, when 4.5 percent of Rhode Island voters cast ballots.

Robert Kando, executive director of the state's Board of Elections, says he wasn't surprised by Tuesday's turnout.

Obama, the current president, stood unchallenged on the Democratic ballot, and Republican Mitt Romney's victory was seen by many as a foregone conclusion. Indeed, Romney captured 63 percent of the vote. Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul placed second with 23.8 percent.

"Rhode Island is a Democratic state, and there was no candidate other than Obama seeking the nomination," he said. "And (on the Republican side) there was one candidate that had a significant lead over the others. All that is going to reduce the likely turnout."

The only competitive races on Tuesday's ballots ended up being those for delegates to the national party conventions.

State GOP Chairman Mark Zaccaria said he was troubled by the turnout and what it might mean for participation in this fall's elections.

"As a practical matter, this is a citizenship issue," he said. "We complain about our government, but we have a responsibility to do something about it."

Republican voter Frederick Mason said Tuesday night he never considered staying away from the polls, even though he knew his preferred candidate -- Romney -- was the favorite.

"I don't think we should get in the habit of skipping elections," Mason said after voting in East Greenwich Tuesday evening. "Because it might make it easier to skip the next one."

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