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