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Majority of Mass. voters still opt out of party affiliation

Voter registration numbers released Tuesday show the majority of Massachusetts voters continuing to abandon the two major political parties, underscoring the continued importance of independent voters in statewide races.

While Democrats still hold a 3-to-1 advantage over Republicans among registered voters in a historically left-leaning state, more than 52 percent of the 4.2 million voters who are registered for the state’s Sept. 6 primary elections chose not to align with either major party.

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Registered Democrats have not outnumbered unaffiliated voters in Massachusetts since 1982, when Democrat Michael Dukakis narrowly defeated Republican John Sears in the governor’s race.

In 2008, the number of unaffiliated voters broke the 50 percent threshold for the first time since 1992 and has continued to climb, while both Democrats and Republicans have seen a smaller percentage of voters identifying with them on voter rolls.

While the percentage of unaffiliated voters remains largely consistent with numbers released in February, the Democratic Party enrollment did dip slightly, 3/10ths of 1 percentage point, said Secretary of State William Galvin, a Democrat.

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“I wouldn’t call it drastic, but it’s significant,” Galvin said.

Overall, the number of registered voters grew by roughly 70,000 since February.

While some states, such as Ohio, conduct closed primaries — in which residents may vote in a primary only if they are registered with that party — under Massachusetts’ open primary system a voter may register as “unaffiliated” and then request either party’s ballot on primary day, Galvin said.

“The open primary doesn’t leave much reason for voters to register with a party,” said Tim Buckley, spokesman for the Massachusetts Republican Party, who said that the number of unaffiliated voters helps independent-minded Republicans like Senator Scott Brown, who faces Democrat Elizabeth Warren in this November’s only statewide race.

A poll last week by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, in North Carolina, found Warren trailing Brown 58 to 32 among self-identified “independent” voters.

“The reason Scott Brown has the support of Republicans, independents, and Democrats is because he has a a track record of bipartisanship and working across party lines to get things done,” said Alleigh Marrié, a Brown campaign spokeswoman. “He’s more in line with the electorate than Elizabeth Warren.”

But Warren campaign officials insist that, despite recent polling, the challenger will have success with unaffiliated voters in November.

“Tens of thousands of residents from every corner of the Commonwealth have signed up to be part of Elizabeth’s grass-roots movement,” said Alethea Harney, a Warren campaign spokeswoman, in a statement.

“The people that support Elizabeth, regardless of their party affiliation, know they can count on her to always vote in the interest of working families here in Massachusetts.”

State Democratic Party chairman John Walsh said that Warren will also benefit from the presidential election, which will mobilize Democratic voters and create down-ticket momentum.

Wesley Lowery can be reached at
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