By Linda Kor
Navajo County voters are following a national trend that shows voters are switching from a recognized political party or initially registering with a party that has an unrecognized status, also known as “independents.” In Arizona, recognized parties include Republican, Democratic, Libertarian and Americans Elect.
According to Navajo County Elections Director Johnathan Roes, there has been a marked increase in the number of voters over the past five years who have registered as independents. “Over the last five years we’ve gone from 13,540 to 16,255 registered voters that fall into that category, which is an increase of about 3,000 voters,” Roes explained.
As far as county voter records show, since 2010 Democrats have lost 1,250 voters, going from 25,160 to 23,910; and Republicans have lost 381 voters, going from 18,799 to 18,418.
The place it makes the biggest difference is in the primary election, which for Navajo County is where most election races finish. “If you’re registered as either a Republican or a Democrat, that’s the party you get a ballot for. If you register as an independent, then you get to decide which one you want to vote on,” said Roes.
In order to have a say in countywide races such as the office of treasurer or recorder, traditionally in Navajo County the Democratic vote decides the outcome.
“Right now we don’t have any county officials that run as Republicans. That, of course, doesn’t include the Board of Supervisors or Congressional offices,” added Roes.
Navajo County is not alone in the state for the number of voters switching from a recognized party. Secretary of State Ken Bennett’s office recently provided information showing that independents have now become the largest bloc of voters in the state.
Of the state’s 3.2 million voters, those registered without a party preference or with independent parties total 1,134,243, an increase of 10,245 since the last report in January. According to Bennett, there are 1,130,170 registered Republicans and 960,701 Democrats, a decrease of 1,093 and 2,127, respectively. Libertarians make up a little less than one percent of the state’s total registration with 26,585 and the Americans Elect Party has enrolled 332 voters since joining Arizona’s other recognized political parties in 2011.
“The rise of the independent voter in Arizona mirrors national trends of voter registration. With more than 40 percent of Americans identifying themselves as independents, our state’s nonaffiliated voters are seemingly less concerned with partisan rhetoric than results,” stated Bennett.
He noted, though, that voters registered as independents have not participated at a high rate in the primaries, and he encourages better turnout amongst this important group of voters.
“Important choices lie ahead for our state and independents have an opportunity to directly influence the direction of our state government,” said Bennett.
By Linda Kor