BEND, OR -- For the first time, the number of Non-Affiliated Voters (NAV) in Deschutes County has exceeded those registered with any one party. As of October first, there were 41,786 NAV voters in Deschutes County, 41,744 registered Republicans, 40,383 Democrats and 8,053 registered with the Independent Party.
County Clerk Nancy Blankenship says it's likely the result of Oregon's "Motor Voter" law that took effect January 1, 2016. "The end of December 2015, the Non-Affiliated voters- we had 24,093. In September of 2018, we have that 41,786. That’s an increase of 73%." With Motor Voter, Oregonians are registered to vote through interactions with the DMV. The person must then respond to a mailing to select their party affiliation. Blankenship tells KBND News, "I think it’s typically because people are automatically registered to vote and they just don’t take the time to either change a party, if they’ve always been affiliated with one. Or, they’re happy to be non-affiliated." She sees a similar shift occurring statewide, "Maybe not to the extent we’ve seen it here in Deschutes County. I mean, that’s a pretty significant growth – 73%; when the others only, the Dems grew by 28% in that same time period, the Republicans grew by 15% and Independent grew by 11.8 [percent]."
OSU-Cascades political science professor James Foster isn’t surprised by the latest numbers, "The primary motivation factor is deep-seeded alienation from both political parties." He tells KBND News voters aren't happy with traditional party politics, especially with issues like housing, minimum wage and healthcare, "People are hurting for a variety of reasons. And, the other side of it is they’re not seeing either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party being responsive to those concerns." Foster adds, "People are very angry. Couple that anger with feeling pretty impotent and not having their voices heard. So, people are in the process of voting with their registration, if you will, against both parties."
So, how do politicians and candidates adjust to this shift in voter registrations? Oregon Congressman Greg Walden is in Bend, this week, and says it doesn’t change how he campaigns, "I just try and do my job and put the product out there and let the people judge on accomplishment and results. I think most Oregonians look beyond their party registration to say, ‘who’s actually getting the job done?’." Walden and his Democratic challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner will face each other in their first – and, so far, only – debate Friday night. They’ll be joined in Bend by Independent Party nominee Mark Roberts in an hour-long debate at 7 p.m., on KTVZ-TV.