Local voters trending red, though Dems have majority

Grant D. Crawford | Daily Press

Tiffany Rozell, Cherokee County Election Board secretary, hands over an application for voter registration at the election board in Tahlequah.

A lot has changed since the 2016 presidential election, including party affiliation among Cherokee County voters.

In 2016, a total of 24,638 Cherokee County residents were registered to vote. Today, there are 23,788, representing a 3.5 percent decrease. Some of the drop in numbers could be due to the state's recent purge of its voter rolls in April, which removed 90,000 inactive voters.

"In order to be inactive, you have to miss at least one federal [election]," said Chelsea Jones, of the Cherokee County Election Board. "If you miss two, and you still don't vote, then you risk the possibility of being deleted."

Voter registration can also be cancelled for a number of other reasons, such as for people who have died, moved out of the county's jurisdiction, or have been convicted of a felony. But while the figures show the county has fewer registered voters, that's not true for all of the political affiliations.

Democrats still hold a significant majority in Cherokee County, but the gap is narrowing. In 2016, there were 13,733 registered Democrats, but that number has dropped, as there are now only 12,277 - a decrease of 10.8 percent. Meanwhile, the Republican Party has seen a 3.97 percent increase in numbers during that time, going from 7,580 to 7,881.

The Libertarian Party has grown by 204 percent since 2016, as there are currently 149 registered Libertarians compared to just 49 in 2016. And the number of independent voters has also changed, as there are now 7.57 percent more registered down the middle and unaffiliated with a party.

A recent trend shows some voters are continuing to ditch the Democratic Party to go red. In September and October this year, 32 county residents changed their affiliation from Democrat to Republican. The Republicans also gained another four previously independent voters, while the Democrats have only seen two switch from independent status.

And although Cherokee County had more residents registered as Democrats than as Republicans during the 2016 presidential election, it did not correspond to votes cast.

Nearly 10,000 people voted for Republican candidate and President Donald Trump, while only 5,456 were in favor of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Many people who took time to register didn't even vote during the general election: Only 16,490 ballots were cast, out of the 24,638 people registered.

"It happens a lot more than you would think," said Jones. "There are a lot of people who just don't vote."

But many people still do exercise their right to vote, and Jones said the election board expects similar figures around the 2020 presidential election.

Not everyone wishes to switch parties, and not everyone will vote along party lines. In a Daily Press Saturday Forum, readers were asked if they have ever changed their registration status, if they plan to, or if they are comfortable with their respective parties' platforms and leaders.

David Watts said he was registered as a Democrat for "a long time," but eventually switched to the Republican Party.

"Republicans usually align closest to my positions, but I'm not party loyal. I vote for whoever is best for the job. I would gladly vote for a third-party candidate if they were gaining traction and I thought they were the best for the job," he wrote.

Many Democrats actually changed their registration to Republican because of the Trump nomination. Donivan Riddle said he switched and voted for Trump "since [President Barack] Obama and the Democrats have been pushing Muslims and every other religion."

"I'll vote for Trump again in 2020," Riddle added. "Look around at what the Democrats stand for. Everything except Christian values. They help illegals before they help their own people."

Other local residents took the opposite approach - again, because of Trump.

"I switched to Democratic when Republicans nominated Trump," said Linda Johnson. "I would like to dissolve the party system."

Many Saturday Forum respondents agreed with Johnson, saying they are becoming tired of the two-party system and are instead opting to remain or become independent.

"I registered independent when I turned 18 and have never regretted it," said John Morse. "Literally any school kid can see that the two-party system is designed to maintain the status quo. I'm not sure how so many people got suckered into believing that one party or the other is better or different. Sure, Republicans have been a little more morally reprehensible since they elected Trump, but it's not like the Democrats cleaned up their act."

In an online poll at the Daily Press website, www.tahlequahdailypress.com, readers were asked if they are planning to change their party affiliation anytime soon, or if they planned to remain where they are now.

Out of 57 respondents, 21 people said they plan on staying Republican; two people said they are currently Republican, but plan to change to something else; 19 said they plan on sticking with Democrats; seven said they are currently Democratic, but plan on changing to something else; one person said he or she plans on staying a Libertarian; six said they are staying independent; and one person admitted not being registered and intended to stay that way.

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