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Independents surpass Republicans on San Diego County voter rolls

Independents surpass Republicans on San Diego County voter rolls
Rose Malinow carries a poster encouraging people to register to vote at Comic Con International in San Diego in July. (David Maung / EPA-Shutterstock)

The number of independent voters in San Diego County has surpassed the number of registered Republicans, government data show, representing the latest blow to several decades of GOP dominance.

As of the end of August, there were 509,359 voters who registered with “no party preference” compared with 487,259 registered Republicans, according to the latest numbers from the San Diego County registrar of voters. Both trail the Democratic Party, which has 618,088 registrants.

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The surge in independent voters and the decline in registered Republicans bring San Diego County in line with a trend that has played out in the rest of the state. Still, GOP dominance remains a feature of county politics.

Republican Kevin Faulconer was elected mayor of San Diego four years ago, despite the city then having nearly 100,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. All five members of the county Board of Supervisors have traditionally been, and currently are, Republicans. And with one exception, the GOP presidential nominee carried the county in every election from 1948 to 2004; the Democratic nominee has won each election since.

At the party’s peak in 1992, Republicans had more than 627,000 registered voters in San Diego County compared with 517,551 registered Democrats. Fewer than 200,000 voters registered with no party preference then.

Experts say the change in registration numbers may say more about today’s voters than it does about the Republican Party.

“I think the choice to identify as an independent is sort of separate from the decline in Republican registration,” said Casey Dominguez, professor of political science at the University of San Diego. “That may not have anything to do with people’s actual voting behavior.”

Tony Krvaric, chairman of the San Diego County Republican Party, said he was not surprised to see the number of independent voters surpass the number of Republicans, given the volume of people registering as a matter of convenience when they are getting their driver’s licenses — as opposed to doing so as part of a political commitment.

He said he’s not seeing a mass exodus from the Republican Party, and he’s not sure how many “motor voter” registrants will actually vote.

San Diego County Democratic Party Chairwoman Jessica Hayes, however, said the shift does have something to do with the GOP.

Many Republicans in San Diego County, she said, are troubled by President Trump and feel that the direction he’s taken the party is “not who they used to be.”

Jeff Marston, co-chair of the San Diego-based Independent Voter Project, credits the surge in “no preference” voters to something larger.

“You’re seeing in this country more and more people consider themselves independents,” Marston said. “Basically, people are tired of both parties.”

Jemery Laguna, 20, a Mesa College student who registered with no party preference this year, said he feels closer to Democrats on social issues but agrees with Republicans on many financial ones.

He also said he thinks he understands why so many people are registering as independents.

“I like to think it is a distrust in the political parties,” Laguna said. “There are a lot of empty promises … and a lot of the time it comes down to, ‘I’m going to vote for the lesser of two evils.’ ”

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Clark writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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