More voters shunning political parties

By Lau­ra Mason | UConn Jour­nal­ism
Nov. 5, 2022 

It was 2020 and UConn stu­dent Gar­rett McGlinchey had just turned 18 when he offi­cial­ly declared him­self polit­i­cal­ly unaf­fil­i­at­ed. With an increas­ing­ly polar­ized polit­i­cal atmos­phere and an influ­en­tial par­ent in each major par­ty, McGlinchey had been cer­tain for a while that he didn’t want to align with any parties. 

I like hear­ing peo­ple out,” he said dur­ing an inter­view, explain­ing that he enjoyed being unaf­fil­i­at­ed because it gave him “more oppor­tu­ni­ty to see both sides” and “allowed for more polit­i­cal individuality.” 

Despite this, McGlinchey also con­tends that unaf­fil­i­at­ed vot­ers are dis­ad­van­taged in the Unit­ed States. Affil­i­a­tion with one of the major par­ties allows indi­vid­u­als to have a stronger role in the polit­i­cal sys­tem, he said. 

Yet while unaf­fil­i­at­ed vot­ers may feel exclud­ed, polit­i­cal par­ties in Con­necti­cut appear to have no inten­tion of mod­i­fy­ing the cur­rent sys­tem. Con­necti­cut has a closed pri­ma­ry sys­tem – only mem­bers reg­is­tered with a par­ty can par­tic­i­pate in that party’s primaries. 

In a recent inter­view, Con­necti­cut Repub­li­can Chair­man Ben Pro­to said he isn’t “over­ly con­cerned with the ris­ing num­ber of unaf­fil­i­ates” and wouldn’t change his approach to pol­i­tics as long as the increase didn’t impact the party’s vot­ing base. 

If I’m giv­en the choice between uti­liz­ing resources to change your reg­is­tra­tion or con­vince you to vote for my can­di­date, I know where I’m putting my resources,” he stat­ed, stress­ing that find­ing and pro­mot­ing good can­di­dates is the party’s priority. 

Con­necti­cut Demo­c­ra­t­ic Chair­man Nan­cy DiNar­do echoed a sim­i­lar view, stat­ing in an inter­view that she specif­i­cal­ly encour­aged can­di­dates to focus on par­ty mem­bers because unaf­fil­i­at­ed vot­ers’ sup­port was sim­ply too inconsistent. 

She also said she sup­ports the closed pri­ma­ry system. 

If you want to have a voice in the par­ty, you should be with the par­ty.” DiNar­do said, adding that she abstains from vot­ing for spe­cif­ic offices if she doesn’t sup­port either candidate. 

The debate over unaf­fil­i­at­ed vot­ers’ role in the polit­i­cal sys­tem has become increas­ing­ly rel­e­vant as more Amer­i­cans seek to step out­side the country’s tra­di­tion­al two-par­ty sys­tem, either by ini­tial­ly reg­is­ter­ing as unaf­fil­i­at­ed or through re-reg­is­ter­ing after leav­ing their party. 

An exam­ple of this can be seen in Con­necti­cut, which recent­ly expe­ri­enced an increase of Democ­rats re-reg­is­ter­ing as unaffiliated. 

Since 2021, 47.4% of new vot­ers who reg­is­tered in Con­necti­cut chose to be unaf­fil­i­at­ed, accord­ing to data from the Sec­re­tary of the State. 

How­ev­er, there are still some who view unaf­fil­i­at­ed vot­ing in a neg­a­tive light.  UConn Vot­er Voic­es Coor­di­na­tor Zoe Bal­trush said in an inter­view that unaf­fil­i­at­ed cit­i­zens were sim­ply inde­ci­sive and should be encour­aged to align with a par­ty in order to par­tic­i­pate more in the polit­i­cal system. 

The increase of unaf­fil­i­at­ed vot­ers “comes from [poten­tial vot­ers] want­i­ng to find their own path,” she said, high­light­ing her organization’s work to make vot­er reg­is­tra­tion more acces­si­ble for col­lege stu­dents, “You vote for who you vote for…[but] if peo­ple become more mobi­lized and more involved, it gives them a bet­ter path.” 

How­ev­er, McGlinchey empha­sized that unaf­fil­i­at­ed vot­ers’ dif­fer­ent approach to pol­i­tics does not mean they should be exclud­ed from the polit­i­cal process. As a Mass­a­chu­setts vot­er, McGlinchey can legal­ly vote in one party’s pri­ma­ry with­out chang­ing his affil­i­a­tion, an activ­i­ty he takes pride in. 

Look­ing specif­i­cal­ly at Con­necti­cut, a state with more than a mil­lion unaf­fil­i­at­ed vot­ers and closed pri­maries, McGlinchey called it “bizarre,” and asked if par­ties are “aware that they’re clos­ing out so many voters.” 

Since the Supreme Court’s 1986 Tashjian v. Repub­li­can Par­ty of Con­necti­cut rul­ing, CT law has allowed any unaf­fil­i­at­ed cit­i­zen to vote in a pri­ma­ry if allowed by the par­ty. How­ev­er, there are no par­ties that cur­rent­ly allow this, essen­tial­ly block­ing 41.6% of vot­ers from par­tic­i­pat­ing in pri­maries, accord­ing to infor­ma­tion from the Con­necti­cut Gen­er­al Assembly. 

Lau­ra Mason is a senior at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Con­necti­cut major­ing in jour­nal­ism. She pro­duced this sto­ry for Fall 2022 Pub­lic Affairs Report­ing course.

TOP IMAGE: A polling place in Mont­pe­lier, Ver­mont. Pho­to by Car­olyn Kaster/Associated Press