For the last two days, I’ve talked about the changing voter registration numbers of the Democratic and Republican Parties in West Virginia. Today, I’ll wrap it up with the independents.
The West Virginia voters with no party affiliation have historically been a small minority. For example, in the 1940 election, just 8,765 registered voters were neither Democrat nor Republican.*
That number hardly changed for several decades. Just 7,056 of the eligible voters in the 1968 Primary Election were categorized as “other party registration.” That represented less than one percent of registered voters.
But that began to change when both parties decided to open their Primary Elections to independents. Now, voters did not have to belong to one of the two major parties to have a voice in the nominating process of the party of their choice.
That structural change and the increased polarization of the parties have contributed to a steady rise in the number and influence of independent voters in West Virginia.
The latest figures from the Secretary of State’s Office show there are now 278,841 West Virginia voters with no party affiliation. (Another 36,497 are affiliated with a third party.)
The independents now make up 23 percent of all registered voters in the state. However, the growth has leveled off. In 2018, 22 percent were independent, while for the General Election four years ago, 21 percent had no party affiliation.
The county clerks have removed nearly 41,000 inactive independent voters since the 2016 election, but nearly 53,000 people either registered for the first time and chose no party affiliation or switched from the major parties to independent. So the “no party” category actually gained nearly 12,000 voters.
Kanawha County has the most independent voters with 28,600 or 23 percent, and that’s to be expected because it’s the state’s most populous county.
Berkeley, the state’s second largest and fastest growing county, has 24,250 voters with no party affiliation; that’s 31 percent of all voters there and 2,500 more than the number of Democrats.
Webster County has the fewest number of independents with just 142, or three percent of all voters.
*(Some of those 8,765 were likely registered with third parties, but the 1940 Blue Book did not include the breakdown.)