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Fewer Mass. voters signing up as a 'D' or 'R', automatic voter law nudges more to become unenrolled

A voter leaves the booth inside the Moses Youth Center, the Precinct 2, Ward 3 polling place in Central Square in Cambridge on Sept. 1, 2020. (Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
A voter leaves the booth inside the Moses Youth Center, the Precinct 2, Ward 3 polling place in Central Square in Cambridge on Sept. 1, 2020. (Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

A growing share of Massachusetts voters are signing up as independents, rather than joining a party, according to new data from the secretary of state's office.

Since 2020, nearly 77% of new voters in the state chose not to enroll in a party, up from 63% for the two-year period. Of those who did pick a party, 18% registered in the Democratic party and 5% registered as Republicans.

MassInc pollster Steve Koczela says the increase in independent voters has more to do with the new automatic voter registration law that went into effect in January 2020 than dissatisfaction with the two major political parties.

"So basically you're registered to vote now in a whole range of different situations. When you interact with Massachusetts state government and specifically you're registered unless you otherwise indicate as an independent, not with either party," Koczela said.

Although the number of unenrolled voters in Massachusetts has outpaced registered party members for years, Koczela wondered if the latest numbers mean parties might need to change the way they select candidates.

"Now if you've got three quarters of new registrants who are not members, you know, it's time to think about those things a little bit and just think, what role should parties play?" Koczela asked.

In Massachusetts, voters can still participate in party primaries without enrolling in either party. At the polls, independent voters are given a choice to cast either a Republican or a Democratic ballot. The next state primary is slated for Sept. 6.

Democrats still maintain a 3-1 advantage over registered Republicans in the state. Nearly 30% of voters were registered as Democrats, compared to 9% as Republicans, as of late June. But close to 60% are unaffiliated with any party.

Both Democrats and Republicans have lost voters over the past 16 months. But nationally, a growing number of adults have identified as Republicans in surveys since the beginning of 2021, according to Gallup.

Related:

Steve Brown Twitter Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.

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