- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - With Connecticut’s presidential primary fast approaching, residents across all age brackets are registering to vote in record numbers.

Secretary of State Denise Merrill said 76,685 people registered to vote between Jan. 1 and April 18.

The largest block of new voters, 36,607, have signed up with the Democratic Party. They’re followed by 23,182 new unaffiliated voters and 16,896 new Republican voters. Only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in Tuesday’s primary.

“I think that people know that there’s a contest and they want to be part of it,” Merrill said. “Let’s face it: For many years, Connecticut hasn’t exactly been a battleground state. And suddenly, we’re relevant.”

In 2008, the last time Connecticut experienced record voter registrations, more than 34,000 people signed up to vote over a 90-day period that preceded that year’s presidential primary, which was held on Feb. 5 or Super Tuesday.

The latest voter registration numbers come as a new Quinnipiac University poll shows former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leading Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Connecticut by a 51 percent to 42 percent margin, with six percent of voters undecided. The survey of 1,037 likely Democratic primary voters indicated 18 percent of those who named a preferred candidate might still change their mind before Tuesday.

On the Republican side, 48 percent of those surveyed said they’re supporting businessman Donald Trump, while 28 percent said they’re backing Ohio Gov. John Kasich and 19 percent are voting for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Quinnipiac surveyed 823 likely Republican primary voters.

Conducted April 12-18, the poll’s margin of error for the Republican primary survey is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. It’s plus or minus 3 percentage points for the Democratic primary.

The surge of new voters in Connecticut could help the candidates differently. The poll shows that Sanders, for example, leads Clinton 73 percent to 26 percent among voters who are 18 to 34 years old. New data from the Secretary of the State’s office show 29,286 of new voters who signed up between Jan. 1 and April 13 are between the ages of 18-29, while 5,232 are under the age of 18. Connecticut allows teens to register to vote early.

Merrill said the youth vote figure is not surprising, however, considering that’s traditionally when people first sign up to vote.

Meanwhile, Clinton easily leads Sanders among voters in the older age brackets, from 35-65 and older. The state’s new voter data show 15,507 are 45-59 and 9,290 are 60 years and older. The Quinnipiac poll shows Kasich leads among younger voters, 18-44, with 39 percent of the vote, followed by Trump with 32 percent and Cruz with 27 percent. Trump, meanwhile, has a strong lead among older voters, from 45-65 and older.

It appears people of all ages are signing up to vote by using the state’s new online voter registration system, which Merrill partly credits for the surge in registrations. More than 50 percent of those who are registering to vote this year used the system, which began 1½ years ago. She said one voter every 60 seconds or less has been signing up online in recent days.

Despite the jump in registration, Connecticut still hasn’t returned to its highest level of registered voters. In 2008, there were more than 2.1 million people who were registered to vote in that year’s presidential election. Currently, there are approximately 1.9 million people registered. Merrill, however, expects Connecticut will ultimately reach 2.1 million again by the time the general election is held.

“People really seem to think this one matters,” she said. “I love to see it. Whatever is motivating people, it’s probably a good thing. The more people, the better.”

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