While consistent with the national trend of rising libertarian registrations, the rate of growth in Maryland is nothing less than astounding. Over the past two years, the Libertarian Party of Maryland is the only party that showed a net increase in their registrations. Our registrations grew by 29.95%, whereas all the other party registrations decreased! As of the end of 2014, we reached 15,169 registered libertarians, a historic high for the party here in Maryland.
Here are the Maryland party comparisons, over the last two years (December 2012 to December 2014):
Libertarians: +29.95% (11,673 to 15,169)
Unaffiliated: +6.29% (629,740 to 669,344)
Democrats: -2.61% (2,096,976 to 2,042,232)
Republicans: -1.39% (971,588 to 958,111)
Greens: -2.18% (8,806 to 8,614)
Total Registered Voters: 3,759,742 to 3,727,601, a decrease of 32,141 or -0.09%
Our growth rate in registrations eclipsed even the movement of voters to unaffiliated status, which is important considering the widely-reported disenchantment with political parties over recent years.
While I normally measure registration statistics over two-year increments to average out short-term variation and make them comparable with statewide electoral results, the charts below show that our growth has been consistent over ten year period, averaging 19.4% a year.
Compare our trending annual growth over a ten year period with those of the other parties:
According to the latest issue of LP News, national LP registrations are up 8.3% over the past seven months. According to ballot access expert Richard Winger, the national data show there were 368,561 registered Libertarians in March 2014, compared to 330,811 in November 2012, a national growth rate of 11.4%. We are nearly tripling the national average in Maryland!
While our growth is impressive, we must remember just how far behind the main parties we are in total registrations. Notwithstanding our growth rates, our 15,169 registrants is only 0.41% of the total registered voters in the state. The Democratic dominance in Maryland remains staggering in comparison and while Republicans have made modest gains, even their numbers dwarf our 15,169. Recognizing this disparity should not discourage us, but instead provide motivation for expanding our efforts to provide an alternative voice in support of liberty.
Richard Winger of Ballot Access News reports that Maryland Senate Bill 1032, a bill to straighten out one of the stranger wrinkles of Maryland’s elections laws, will get a hearing next week before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. The text is available here or here, but really it’s very simple: Current law automatically renews a political party’s official recognition (and the ballot access that goes with it) if more than 1% of the state’s registered voters choose to affiliate with that party. SB 1032 would replace the 1% threshold (which equates to about 37,084 voters right now) with a threshold of 10,000.
This is great news, and not only for smaller or newer political parties. SB 1032 is also great news for Maryland voters who will enjoy more choice at the polls, and for Maryland taxpayers who will no longer have to pay for the enormous waste of state resources that our current election law requires.
To understand the importance of SB 1032, it helps to know what happens to a recognized political party that fails to reach the 1% threshold at the end of any four-year election cycle. That party can regain its official recognition by filing a petition signed by 10,000 registered voters, regardless of party affiliation. Collecting 10,000 signatures is a lot harder than it sounds, because state law requires voters to print and sign their names in very specific ways that often do not match the signatures or names they use in daily life. For example, “Martin O’Malley” on a petition would not qualify as a valid signature; it would need to be “Martin H. O’Malley,” even though the Governor doesn’t even need to use that middle initial when he signs legislation. That and other traps for the unwary mean that, in practice, a small political party may need to spend $50,000 to collect enough “raw” signatures to be sure that at least 10,000 will be deemed valid. And state and local elections officials don’t particularly enjoy flyspecking the petitions for compliance, which of course they do at substantial cost to the taxpayers.
But apart from the waste of time and expense, consider the situation of, well, the Libertarian Party of Maryland, with 13,313 registered voters as of January 31, 2014. Under current law, because we have fewer than 37,084 registered Libertarian voters, we would need to collect signatures from 10,000 registered voters who support the Libertarian Party’s right to exist. But the state’s own records already show that 13,313 support our right to exist so much that they themselves registered as Libertarians. Asking us to circulate a petition to prove that we have the support of at least 10,000 voters is just silly when the state can press a button and print out a list of 13,313 registered voters who have already told the state they support us. And because the 10,000 signatures can come from voters of any party affiliation or no affiliation at all, a petition signed by 10,000 voters of whom relatively few will be Libertarians actually demonstrates far less political support within the state than our 10,000 registered voters do. Requiring the petition under these circumstances isn’t just wasteful and pointless; it’s a wasteful and pointless obstacle to voting rights. It’s the kind of wasteful and pointless obstacle that might well be unconstitutional.
(By the way, if you’re wondering who represents you in the General Assembly, you can find out here.)
That’s what we were in 2013. According to year-end figures just released by the Maryland State Board of Elections, the Democrats and Republicans continue to hemorrhage voters while the Libertarian Party continues to grow. We now have 13,131 registered Libertarians within the state–the most ever for a party outside the Democrat-Republican duopoly.