ANNAPOLIS – Maryland voters who want to switch parties to vote in the March 7 presidential primary must do so by Monday, even though unregistered voters have until Feb. 11 to sign up to cast a ballot.
According to the State Board of Elections, there are about 2.3 million registered voters in Maryland. Of those, about 1.5 million are Democrats, 763,063 are Republicans, 1,800 are registered Libertarians and 316,187 are not affiliated with any party.
Independent voters who want to affiliate with a party or voters who wish to change their party affiliation have until Monday at 9 p.m. to switch. To change parties, a registered voter must contact his or her local board of elections to obtain a change of party form. It must be returned to the local board by the deadline, according to the State Board of Elections.
It is unlikely that there will be enough people switching parties to signal the strength of any candidate, political analysts said.
Republican voters can choose from among: Texas Gov. George W. Bush, son of former President George Bush; U.S. Sen. John McCain, of Arizona; Steve Forbes, a New Jersey publisher; U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, of Utah; Alan Keyes, television commentator and former ambassador from Maryland; Gary Bauer, of Virginia, former head of the Family Research Council and a Reagan administration undersecretary of education.
Democratic primary voters may choose between Vice President Al Gore, of Tennessee, and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, of New Jersey.
It is unlikely that enough voters to swing the vote will switch parties, said American University history professor and political analyst Allan J. Lichtman. Lichtman says the only foreseeable switch will be independent voters who support the campaign reform efforts of McCain. McCain, with Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, has championed campaign finance reform and the abolishment of soft money contributions to political parties for years.
“There’s a real contest (within the Democratic Party) between Bradley and Gore. Democrats are not going to change their registration to go Republican,” Lichtman said. Switching parties, Lichtman said, “takes some time and energy.” The American public isn’t as engaged in the election as the media, and therefore not fired up enough to change parties, he said. For the majority of Maryland voters, a change in party affiliation would be “highly unlikely,” said Paul S. Herrnson, a University of Maryland government and politics professor.
Herrnson said Maryland voters are very politically aware and switching parties is not an option for them. “First, most of these voters are party loyalists and activists and they have the strongest feelings of partisanship of all voters” nationwide, Herrnson said. “Second, they tend to know more about politics than the typical voters and they know that the primary is too late to have any real impact on the process.”
It doesn’t matter whether voters are changing from one party to another, or joining a party after registering as an independent, the chances are still “slim to none” that their actions will affect the Maryland primary’s outcome, Lichtman said. A few maverick Republicans may switch parties to back Reform Party candidate Patrick J. Buchanan, he acknowledged, but the GOP has enough variety to keep most of its members in the fold. “There’s plenty of conservatives in that Republican field if (conservatives) want to vote for them,” Lichtman said.