October 20, 2021

Party shifts: Some cite Capitol chaos; most change due of law

Laurie Seamans had been a part of the Conservative Party since she registered to vote at 18, but she recently switched to having no party affiliation after months of seeing what was happening at the national level with the Republican and Democratic parties.

“I’ve always voted for whoever I thought was the right person for the job,” she said, noting she voted for president-elect Joe Biden, even though the Conservative Party endorsed President Donald Trump.

Seamans isn’t the only county resident switching party lines. In total, 36 voters in Cortland County have switched affiliations since Nov. 7, Democratic Election Commissioner Tom Brown said Thursday in an email. However, he said most of the switches have been because of a change in state election law in 2020 that made it harder for minor parties to get on the ballot.

The new law requires minor parties to get at least 100,000 votes in an election to remain on the ballot, up from 50,000 votes. The change meant the Independence, Green and Libertarian parties were all eliminated from the ballot and from registration options.

The justification for the move was that 56 counties had room on their ballots for only nine parties and an excessive number of smaller parties in the state created a burden on election offices, according to the law.

In Cortland County, 87 people were registered with the Green Party, 1,535 with the Independence Party and 102 with the Libertarian Party.

“We have only had a few people come in to change their registration since the march on the Capitol,” Brown said.

But that situation has arisen elsewhere, news services report. Since the insurrection at the Capitol, 225 Republicans changed their enrollment in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Another 192 switched in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, about 50 in Linn County, Iowa. Elections officials across the nation are not sure whether voters are responding to the Capitol incident, or are leaving a GOP they fear will be less loyal to Trump, or rejecting partisan politics, altogether.

Seamans’ change was months in the making, she said. She had wanted to wait until after the election and decided she would make a statement with her change because of what’s happened lately in Washington, D.C., from the insurrection to continued arguments between both parties.

Seamans said she didn’t switch to a major party line because she didn’t like the way the two larger parties — the Democrats and Republicans — had been acting lately.

“It starts to feel like I’m back in junior high school,” she said. “It just starts to eat away at you when you hear people say, ‘oh we don’t like them because they’re a Democrat’ or ‘we don’t like them because they’re a Republican.’”

Others in Cortland County have switched, too. County Legislator Chris Newell, once a Republican, is now unaffiliated as a response to the Trump presidency. On Wednesday, three Republican county legislators switched to no party affiliation after months of feeling battered for not always voting along party lines.

Seamans said making the switch isn’t an easy decision and people shouldn’t take it lightly.

“I think people have to assess whether their particular core values align with their political party,” she said. “It’s really a self-assessment.”