Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Since New Mexico last updated its voter rolls, the biggest increase in voter registration doesn’t belong to Democrats or Republicans – it’s among voters who declined to state a party affiliation and those affiliated with other parties.
Of the 43,434 newly registered voters from March 2017 through August of this year, a total of 23,380 – or nearly 54 percent of those who registered to vote – either registered without stating a party affiliation or did so with a different political party from the two traditional heavyweights.
In fact, that figure is more than the number of newly registered Democrats and Republicans combined, as the total number of registered Democrats increased by 11,869 and the number of Republicans went up by 8,185 during that same time period.
Overall, about 22 percent of the state’s registered voters are now declined-to-state voters, who are also commonly referred to as independents.
“Among newly registered voters, we’re finding a large portion rejecting party labels and choosing not to affiliate with a major political party,” said longtime New Mexico political observer Brian Sanderoff.
But with Election Day just over five weeks away, there’s one obvious question: Will independent voters show up at the polls?
Sanderoff said Friday that voters who declined to state a party affiliation, many of whom are likely younger or first-time voters, have historically not cast ballots at the same rate as registered Democrats and Republicans.
“If history repeats itself, many of them will not vote in lower-turnout elections such as a non-presidential race,” said Sanderoff, president of Albuquerque-based Research & Polling Inc.
In part, that could be because Republican and Democratic voters are more motivated to vote for candidates of their respective parties, Sanderoff said. There are only 12 independent candidates who qualified for the Nov. 6 general election ballot, and none of those candidates is running for statewide office.
University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson said 2016 state election data show that a lower percentage of independent voters turned out to vote than registered Republicans or Democrats.
About 45 percent of New Mexico independents cast ballots in that year’s general election, which included a hotly contested presidential race between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. In comparison, 66 percent of registered Democrats and 69 percent of registered Republicans cast ballots in the 2016 general election, she said.
With no presidential race on tap this year, she said, those numbers will likely drop across the board.
Among newly registered voters who declined to affiliate with a major political party, Atkeson said, research shows those ages 30 and younger could be more likely to vote than older newly registered voters.
“I think there could be some higher turnout there, but if I had to bet I’d say most of those voters don’t vote,” she told the Journal.
She also said it’s likely that many of the newly registered voters signed up to vote at state Motor Vehicle Division offices or at other state agencies while conducting separate business.
Voter registration for the coming general election closes on Oct. 9. Election Day is Nov. 6.