ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland State Administrative Board of Election Laws reported Thursday that a record number of voters have registered to vote in the approaching election, and that an increasing share of them are declining to identify with either major party.
Board records show that as of Oct. 7, when registration for Tuesday’s election closed, the total number of registered voters surpassed the record set four years ago, rising from 2,463,010 to 2,587,977 – an increase of 124,967 or 5.1 percent.
The registration increase is even sharper when compared to 1994, when total registration fell by 95,844 from two years earlier. Since 1994, those registered climbed by 220,811 or 9.3 percent.
And although all parties gained, assessing winners and losers is difficult.
Since 1992, the Republican Party has added 57,933 voters, bringing its current total to 775,896.
And since the November 1994 election, there have been more new registered Republicans — 80,914 — than new registered Democrats – 75,321.
Yet the GOP’s overall percentage of Maryland’s electorate remained basically unchanged – climbing slightly from 29.2 percent to 30 percent.
Democrats continue to outnumber Republicans by a 2-1 ratio, but growth in Democratic registrations has slowed.
There are now 12,064 more registered Democrats than in 1992, growth of less than 1 percent. The party’s 1,518,248 members now comprise 58.7 percent of voters, as compared to 61.2 percent in 1992.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, played down the significance of the small Democratic increase, saying the lack of growth in some areas of the state had been offset by increases in the traditional Democratic strongholds of Baltimore City, and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
“In rural areas, the Republican pitch for tax cuts, against affirmative action and so on are resonating to a certain extent. But it’s a trend I expect to reverse with the landslide of President Clinton next week,” Miller said.
But House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, said, “The growth of Republicans hurts Democrats everywhere.”
The greater relative increase in GOP voters, Taylor said, reflects the move of the mainstream to the right.
Meanwhile, Del. Martha Klima, R-Baltimore County, said the increasing Republican numbers reflect support for the Republican Party message: that less government is better government.
“The Republican Party and elected officials are more in tune with the electorate,” Klima said.
What could be most troubling to both major parties is the number of voters refusing to identify with either of them.
Board figures indicate that the fastest growth rate is among those either joining small parties – such as the Libertarian, Reform, Natural Law or Taxpayers parties – or declining to pick a party preference at all.
For example, over the past four years, the Libertarian Party has experienced a significant rate of growth – nearly 41 percent – while increasing its membership to almost 4,000.
Aside from the Libertarians, the total of those joining smaller parties or declining to join one at all has risen from 236,171 in 1992 to 290,048, an increase of 22.8 percent.
In all, those choosing a party other than Democrat or Republican now make up 11.4 percent of registered voters.
Miller said these voters are considering the option of registering as independents without realizing they are unable to vote in primaries. In his opinion, the increase in such voters had no effect on Democrats.
Klima offered no opinion on why more voters were choosing independent or third-party registration, but praised third parties as “laudable ideas.”
The data supplied by the election board also shows the impact of the controversial Motor Voter law, which went in to effect in Maryland in January 1995.
Voters now are able to register at the Motor Vehicle Administration, state social services offices and military recruiting centers.
During 1996, more than 87,000 voters registered utilizing this method. Of these, 38,503 registered as Democrats and 25,503 identified themselves as Republicans, while the rest chose other parties or declined a party affiliation. -30-