Voter party affiliation in Frederick County, Maryland, has shifted over the last 16 years, with Republicans showing the smallest gain. Out of 56,807 registered voters over the last 16 years, Republicans received (12,981-22.8 percent), Democrats (21,059-37.1 percent), and unaffiliated voters (21,193-37.3 percent).
Frederick County voter registration numbers as of end of September 2018 show Democratic registration is within 2,695 voters of Republicans. Sixteen years ago, Republicans had a 10,773 voter registration advantage over Democrats heading into the 2002 gubernatorial election.
Voters who decline to affiliate with a political party are the fastest growing number of voters in Frederick County and follow a trend that extends across the country. Unaffiliated voters in Frederick County have more than doubled in size from 16 years ago, increasing from 18,718 to 39,911 today.
Out of 174,636 total registered voters today, Republicans make up (67,637-38.7 percent), Democrats (64,942-37.2 percent) and unaffiliated voters (39,911-22.8 percent). Libertarian, Green and Other make up less than 2 percent of the registered voters.
Sixteen years ago, out of 117,829 registered voters, Republicans made up (54,656-46.3 percent), Democrats (43,883-37.2 percent) and unaffiliated voters (18,718-15.8 percent).
Maryland is a closed primary election, which means unaffiliated voters cannot vote in the primary election when voters of political parties determine their candidates who will appear in the general election. Unaffiliated voters can participate in nonpartisan primary elections such as the Board of Education race in Frederick County.
Deborah Carter, chair of the Frederick County state Democratic Central Committee, reflected on how Democrats have narrowed the gap with Republicans. “These things do tend to go in cycles,” she said. “Once upon a time, Frederick County Democrats outnumbered the Republicans, and it looks like it’s on track to happen again. However, the party is also evolving. Many old-school Democrats were what we now call ‘Dixiecrats,’ while today’s Dems are younger, smarter and more progressive than ever before. We’re not only gaining on the Republicans in registrations. Democrats also saw much higher turnout in the primary than the Republicans did, and absentee ballot requests are almost two-to-one Dem. What this says to me is that Dems are more active, more energized and more excited about our candidates.”
Hoda Zaki, Virginia E. Lewis professor of political science at Hood College, noted, “The rise in unaffiliated voters is a sign that voters do not want to commit to one party, but wish to leave the door open to changing their vote depending on the particular election. This fluidity in political identification is related to the changes in both parties’ platforms. As political parties change and shift, voters respond in similar ways. Political parties and voters both are responding to very real challenges in the national and global economy.
“I’m not sure how to explain the drop in Republican voters, unless it can be explained by looking at the age and demographics of voters moving to Frederick County in recent years,” she added.
The chair and vice chair of the Frederick County Republican Central Committee did not respond to a request for comment before publication deadline.
If unaffiliated voters turn out, they will certainly have an impact on many local elections.
An unaffiliated candidate has never won a countywide election in Frederick County. However, two unaffiliated candidates are running in this election. The county executive race features three candidates for the first time: Kathy Afzali (R), Jan Gardner (D) and Earl Robbins (U). Also, the at-large (countywide) County Council race where voters elect two council members has five candidates: Susan Reeder Jessee (D), Kai Hagen (D), Phil Dacey (R), Danny Farrar (R) and Bud Otis (U).
Frederick County Elections Supervisor Stuart Harvey said, “Based on the turnout in the primary election and the increase in voter registration, I expect voter turnout to exceed 60 percent in the General Election Nov. 6, 2018.”
Early voting runs from Oct. 25 through Nov. 1. The General Election is Nov. 6.
George Wenschhof writes from Frederick and is publisher of FrederickPolitics.com.