Voters shifting out of parties
With each election, Nevada County voters are increasingly shedding their political party affiliation, according to Elections Office voter-registration numbers.
Politically unaffiliated or “Decline to State” voters have increased 2 percent during the past four years while party-oriented registrations have decreased slightly every year. More than 16 percent of Nevada County’s 60,180 voters are registered as unaffiliated with any party for the March 2 primary election.
Joan Lancaster of the League of Women Voters of Western Nevada County said she received several inquiries from people who wanted to know how to change their party affiliation. In one case, a woman wanted to vote for a candidate in another party, she said.
While some voters might be looking to switch parties and support another party’s candidate, other times people divorce themselves from a party because they are tired of partisan politics or want to avoid the solicitations for party donations, Lancaster said.
“I don’t know what the withdrawal is but I can suppose they’re unhappy and want to be free of the party, so to speak,” Lancaster said.
There is an advantage to being unaffiliated in a modified open primary – the system used in California – because voters can request a ballot of either party, Lancaster said. However, the state’s Republican Party does not allow unaffiliated voters to vote for a presidential candidate.
Nevada County is part of a political trend sweeping California, according to political participation expert Mark Baldassare.
On the Public Policy Institute of California Web site, Baldassare said: “Simply put, California is moving in the direction of an ‘un-party state’ where neither Democrats nor Republicans have the upper hand with a fickle electorate.”
Statewide, voter registration has dropped since the 2003 recall election, but the pool of unaffiliated voters expanded one-half percent claiming 16 percent of 15 million voters, according to the most recent reports released by the Secretary of State.
Democrats still dominate the Golden State with 43 percent of voters, but the number of registered Democrats declined 1 percent since last year’s election. Republicans gained almost one-half percent to claim 35.7 percent of registered voters.
While the number of registered voters for a regular election increased across the board in Nevada County, the percentage of voters in both major parties declined.
Since 2000, the ratio of Democrats has dropped 1 percent to 31.9 percent, while the Republican percentage went from 45.7 percent to 45.1 percent. Other parties, including Libertarians and Greens, have decreased as well, from 6.9 percent to 6.6 percent.
Following the statewide trend, the section of unaffiliated voters in the county rose from 14.3 percent to 16.6 percent.
The surge of Nevada County’s independent voters came with the October 2003 ouster of former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis for Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Registration peaked with 61,059 voters, and the percent of independents, which was steadily increasing, jumped 1.3 percent to 16.2 percent – or 9,864 local voters.
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