How many voters are Independent / Unaffiliated in Maryland?
As of April 2019, more than 18% of all registered voters in Maryland (and more than 22% of voters in Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties) were unaffiliated with any political party.
Many other voters consider themselves to be Independents, but are registered as Republican or Democrat because in Maryland, that is the only way they can participate in primary elections.
The number of unaffiliated voters continues to grow -- in 2018, 26% of Maryland's new voters registered as unaffiliated, and last April more than 28% of new voter registrations were unaffiliated.
Who are Independent Voters?
Nationally, according to Gallop's 2016 data, 30% of African Americans, 41% of Latinos, 43% of Asians and 44% of millennials consider themselves to be independent.
Why do voters choose to be Independent / Unaffiliated?
An extensive survey of almost 5,000 independent voters was conducted by Independent Voting in 2018 (118 of those surveyed were in Maryland).
Two thirds of them reported that one reason they were unaffiliated is because they believed that the two major parties put the interests of their own party ahead of the American people.
More than half of them said they wanted to vote for the person, not the party.
42% felt that the Democrats and Republicans did not represent them.
Many Independent voters feel disenfranchised because our voices are suppressed.
Independents who are unaffiliated are not allowed to participate in primary elections, which is where the actual selection of candidates takes place in many districts in Maryland.
That means that unaffiliated voters have no voice in choosing who represents them in these districts.
This may explain why unaffiliated voters are less likely to vote than other voters.
They are not motivated to show up at the general election and validate a choice that was made without their input at the primary election.
As one Independent put it,
"The major parties don't want those outside their party choosing their candidate, but they sure as heck want you to vote for their candidate in the general election."
If Independents want to have a voice, why don't they just affiliate as a Democrat or a Republican, like everyone else?
Some Independents do indeed affiliate with a party in order to vote, but as of last April, hundreds of thousands (738,300) of Maryland voters chose not to, for some of the reasons we explained.
Several bills were introduced (or reintroduced) into Maryland's General Assembly last year (2019) which would have affected Independents.
Some bills would have opened Maryland's primaries so that Independents could vote,
and other bills would have allowed Independents / unaffiliated voters to affiliate on election day so they could vote (currently, they'd have to affiliate 3 weeks before the election in order to vote).
As we prepared our testimony for these bills, we surveyed Independent voters of Maryland.
About half of them said they'd affiliate temporarily in order to vote in the primary elections, and the other half said they would not affiliate, even temporarily.
One of them said, "We shouldn't have to affiliate with any party in order to exercise our right to vote!"
These bills were never allowed out of committee to be considered by the General Assembly.
One of the legislators explained at the hearing that they didn't want to have to spend money to appeal to independent voters.
This illustrates the research which indicates that candidates in closed primaries, including legislators who are running for reelection, are more likely to ignore their unaffiliated constituents than those who run in open primaries, and are less likely to be bipartisan in their response.
That is why, of the Independents surveyed in Maryland:
78% believe the Democratic and Republican parties should open the presidential primaries to allow unaffiliated voters to participate.