The number of registered voters in Frederick County now skews ever-so-slightly blue, after more than two decades of Republicans leading the way.
There are now 16 more Democrats registered countywide than Republicans, according to a recent analysis by the Frederick County Board of Elections. There are 67,751 Democrats, 67,735 Republicans and 43,923 voters who are either unaffiliated or with other political parties in the county.
Frederick County Election Director Stuart Harvey said in a news release the unaffiliated group, also known as independent voters, is the fastest-growing group of registered voters countywide.
“Unaffiliated voters are growing statewide, but we have one of the highest, if not the highest percentage in the state,” Harvey said in an email.
Harvey added that when he came to Frederick County in 2002, there were roughly 11,000 more Republicans than Democrats. Before then, Democrats had outnumbered Republicans until the 1994 gubernatorial primary, Harvey said.
Republicans had led in voter registration since then until Friday, he said.
County Councilman Kai Hagen (D) said the Democratic growth is not an “anomaly” and has been occurring since he was elected to the Board of County Commissioners in 2006.
Still, even with the slight advantage, Hagen said partisan turnout is still the number one factor in upcoming local elections. He said that split tickets are common when considering local elections versus state and federal races.
“Local issues and local leadership has always been nonpartisan enough for crossover votes to be significant, and for people to win and not be in the majority or plurality party,” Hagen said.
County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) also expressed a similar view, saying that at the local level, residents want their streets plowed, garbage picked up and other services provided, versus focusing on party politics.
Concerning state and federal politics, Hagen and Keegan-Ayer both said the growth in unaffiliated voters is a sign more people don’t identify with either political party.
Keegan-Ayer said many are dissatisfied with the current political climate nationally.
“People’s concern is at the national level, the two parties are talking past each other,” she said. “There is no effort to hear what the other side is saying. ... I do believe that’s when unaffiliated [voters] are jumping.”
A few local Republicans, James Dvorak and Del. Barrie Ciliberti (R-Frederick and Carroll), agreed the national political climate led to the rise of unaffiliated voters countywide.
Dvorak also said, however, that Republicans need to work on registering more voters and increasing turnout, given current registration numbers.
“We’re just gonna keep our feet on the ground, keep going out there for 2020,” said Dvorak, chair of the county Republican Central Committee. “Obviously we’re not happy about it.”
Ciliberti said one reason there might be more Democrats in the county now is because Montgomery County residents are moving up to Frederick County, along with liberal voters statewide.
“Politically, it argues well for the Democrats. ... It speaks a lot to the hardcore left that runs Montgomery County,” said Ciliberti, who has served as a delegate since February 2015. “And they’re coming up to Frederick [County] where things might be more like common sense.”
No matter what happens in the future, current numbers show some upcoming local elections should be close, Harvey said.
“I think it could predict a number of close elections for state and county officials going forward here, with unaffiliated voters holding the balance of power,” he said. “We saw that to some extent in 2018, in the District 3B race, and in the Council District 1 race.”
In the 3B race, Del. Ken Kerr, a Democrat, defeated incumbent Bill Folden by about three percentage points in 2018. As for the District 1 race, Democrat Jerry Donald was successfully re-elected by fewer than 350 votes.