About 2,900 Frederick County residents in the past year have declared a new party affiliation, with about 40 percent of them shunning both Republican and Democratic labels.
From June 1, 2013, to May 31, 1,181 county residents changed their voter registrations to become unaffiliated or to join the Green or Libertarian parties, according to county elections officials. Though Republican and Democratic ranks have grown since the last gubernatorial primary in 2010, the fastest-expanding group of Frederick County voters have eschewed the two main political designations. Statewide trends mirror the local pattern, as voters tire of the partisan bickering they associate with the dual-party system, a political expert said.
"Negative campaigning and polarized politics are almost a systemic turnoff for many voters. Politicians behaving badly," said Herbert Smith, political science professor at McDaniel College.
Will Talley, of Frederick, said he recently decided to become an independent because he is disappointed in Democratic and Republican politicians.
"I looked at the national, state county/city government and just felt that no matter what party is in office, the citizens are the ones somehow left out. So I don't want to be affiliated with a party," Talley said in a Facebook post.
Gridlock in the nation's capital has become one source of frustration for Talley, who was previously registered as a Democrat. Last year's government shutdown affected both of his parents, who have jobs at Fort Detrick and with the federal government, Talley said in a phone interview.
But fatigue with the two-party system was not the only reason the county's voters decided to pick a new affiliation. Since June 2013, 661 county residents have switched to the Democratic Party, while 1,028 voters shifted to the GOP, the Frederick County Board of Elections reported. The overall number of party switches was more than double the total for the same period four years earlier, in the months before the 2010 gubernatorial elections.
Stuart Harvey, Frederick County's election director, said one possible factor for the increase is that voters can now change their party affiliations online.
In addition, there has been a push for Democrats and independents to register as Republicans for the sole purpose of opposing Blaine Young in the primary.
Smith said the effectiveness of the effort will hinge on election turnout; the closer the primary race, the greater the chance that the party switches will influence the outcome.
Young's opponents, such as those who launched the Facebook page Defeat Blaine Young in the Primary, have been encouraging Republicans to vote for David Gray or Mark Sweadner on June 24. Gray believes he could win support from 90 percent of the roughly 1,000 people who switched to the Republican Party over the past year. These numbers potentially could tip the scales in his favor, Gray said.
He noted that only about 19,480 Republicans participated in the 2010 primary elections, and many of the local candidates were separated by a couple of thousand votes.
Dickerson resident Douglas Pierce said he changed from unaffiliated to Republican to cast a vote for Gray in the primary.
"It's kind of like a protest vote more than anything," said Pierce, who said he has disagreed with Young's actions while commissioner to cut certain services and return $100 rebate checks to taxpayers.
Overall, Pierce said he supports Democratic candidate Jan Gardner for Frederick County executive.
Young said a majority of the party-switchers will probably be voting for his opponents, but he has learned of some people who changed their affiliation to support him. However, he takes issue with efforts to use party changes to knock him out before the general election.
"I think it's reprehensible for them to try to hijack the Republican primary," Young said.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.
To clarify: The information chart should have stated that the May totals for voter registration included 16- and 17-year-olds who will not be eligible to vote in this year's election. Not including the 16- and 17-year-olds, Frederick County has 149,393 registered voters. Of those, 54,121 are Democrats, 60,670 are Republicans and 33,286 are unaffiliated.