Elections

More voters are rejecting the two-party system in SLO County

SLO County Clerk-Recorder shows what it’s like to count thousands of ballots

San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong talks about the process of counting ballots on June 6, 2018, the day after the California Primary. Thousands of ballots remain after Election Day in SLO County.
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San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong talks about the process of counting ballots on June 6, 2018, the day after the California Primary. Thousands of ballots remain after Election Day in SLO County.

A record number of San Luis Obispo County residents are registered to vote in the November election — and more would-be voters than ever are declining to join either of the two major political parties, data show.

More than 172,500 county residents are registered to vote, around 80 percent of eligible voters. Of those, about a third are registered Democrat (59,530) and about a third are registered Republican (60,117), according to data provided by the county Clerk-Recorder Office.

Historic data of voter registration show the portion of registered voters who are members of either party has declined since 2000.

That doesn’t mean people are jumping to support third parties like the Green Party or the Libertarian Party. Rather, the next largest group is those who register with no party preference at all.

In 2018, 42,294 county residents didn’t pick a party preference — about a quarter of all registered voters, up from about 13 percent in 2000.

The same trend is happening across California. Statewide, the number of people registered with no party preference has overtaken the number registered as Republican, according to the California Secretary of State’s Office.

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Surveys by the Public Policy Institute of California offer insight into who those no-party-preference voters are and what they might be thinking.

According to their findings, independent voters are an ideologically diverse group, but strong majorities align with Democrats on some issues and tend to support Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

Still, the research shows that most independent voters have unfavorable views of both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.

Voters aren’t flocking to other parties

While new voters in San Luis Obispo County may be wary of the two major parties, they aren’t joining a third party either.

The only third party that has seen any notable growth in the county in recent years is the American Independent Party, which rose from 3,388 local voters in 2000 to about 5,290 in 2018, county data shows. But that’s likely by mistake.

A 2016 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that nearly three in four people did not intent to join the ultraconservative party. Rather, those voters likely intended to be classified as independent, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In San Luis Obispo County, the Libertarian Party has grown from 1,067 registered voters in 2000 to about 1,760 in 2018, county data shows, while the Green Party has seen membership decline from 2,170 local voters in 2000 to about 1,070 in 2018.

Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930; @MonicaLVaughan
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