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NJ: Rusty at This Primary Business

By Joby Warrick
Voters are turning up in droves across New Jersey for today's Super Tuesday contests, but some, it seems, are a little rusty at the business of primary elections.

Poll officials say they're seeing an unusually large number of would-be voters who had either failed to register with a political party or wanted to vote for a candidate from a different party.

Blame it on New Jersey's earlier-than-usual primary, which was moved this year from June to February. Traditionally, New Jersey primaries attracted relatively few voters because the contests for presidential nominees were nearly always decided before Garden State residents got a chance to cast ballots.

By contrast, this year's race is drawing large numbers of voters, many of whom have never participated in a primary before, according to election officials and political observers.

"We're seeing unaffiliated voters trying to vote, and others who can't remember what party they registered with," said one Republican official monitoring the polls. "One lady said she thought she had been a Republican for 10 years, but she have never actually changed her registration."

In New Jersey, only registered party members can vote in primaries.

Otherwise, voting across the state was reported to be heavy and mostly problem-free, although a few balky voting machines caused problems in some precincts.

Gov. Jon Corzine had planned to cast his vote around 6:15 a.m. at his regular polling station in Hoboken but had to wait after two voting machines malfunctioned. About a dozen voters were turned away before the machines were fixed, election officials say.

Corzine, a Democrat who has endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) for president, finally cast his vote shortly before 7 a.m.

Interest in this year's election has been fueled by a sudden tightening of the race between the two Democratic contenders, with newly released state-wide polls showing Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) closing to within a few percentage points of Clinton--long the front-runner here.

"Obama is closing," said one Democratic consultant. "If he wins it, it's huge."

The polls showed Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) well in front of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in the Republican contest. A win today for McCain would give him all of the state's 52 GOP delegates under New Jersey's winner-take-all formula.

Clinton and Obama will receive proportional shares of the state's 127 Democratic delegates.

By Web Politics Editor  |  February 5, 2008; 5:19 PM ET
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