More area voters thinking indepenently

February 02, 1997


Staff Writer

Harley and Brenda Barnett of Chambersburg, Pa., have always registered as independents.

"We don't particularly like any politician. Don't trust 'em," said Harley Barnett, 40.

Many others in the Tri-State area are beginning to agree.

The percentage of people who don't register with either major political party is rising.

It mirrors a national trend that began in 1968, said Michael Towle, assistant professor of political science at Mount Saint Mary's College near Emmitsburg, Md.

In Washington County last year, 10.7 percent of registered voters were not affiliated with either major party. In 1961, less than 1 percent were nonpartisan or registered with a smaller party, according to the Washington County Board of Elections Supervisors.


Frederick County, Md., has the highest percentage of independent voters in the Tri-State area, 14.4 percent.

Fulton County, Pa., has the lowest, 4.2 percent.

The flight from the Republican and Democratic parties has increased with the advent of motor-voter laws, which have registered new people to vote.

To the surprise of Democrats, many of those new voters turned out to be conservatives, said Vicki Nelson, member of the Washington County Republican Central Committee.

Many other newcomers to voting registered as independents. "We have a generation of people coming up who didn't like either side of the aisle," she said.

Republicans are stereotyped as representing business interests, while Democrats are seen as favoring special interest groups, Towle said.

"The two parties are beginning to be seen as very elite," he said. "They're not seen as organizations who are there to mobilize us and deal with our problems."

Independents actually lose some political clout when they aren't banded together with people with similar interests, said Democratic Central Committee Chairman Rick Hemphill.

Towle said the political process will suffer if no one is there to make compromises in the public interest.

"If interest groups come to replace political parties, I think we're worse off,'' he said. "I think there is a perception that the independent is more intellectually honest. In fact, you have the opposite going on. They don't follow politics."

Deborah J. Kissel, 39, of Chambersburg, Pa., said she often votes Democratic even though she is not registered with the party.

"I just like to hear what everyone has to say and then make up my mind," said Kissel, an assistant sales manager for a retail store.

Both political parties need to look at why voters are abandoning them, said Nelson and Hemphill.

"It's a wake-up call," Hemphill said. "We consider that an important trend and we hope that we can try and reverse that."

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