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Political parties see switch among voters

JOHNSTOWN — Area elections officials say registered voters switch parties on a regular basis. But with the recent contentious presidential election, and divided political loyalties, many people in both Fulton and Montgomery counties have switched parties in noticeable numbers.

An analysis of election data finds it hard to discern why people switched, but in Fulton County, the big winner has been the Republican Party.

After the Nov. 3 presidential election, New York state did what might be referred to as a “purge” of some of the smaller parties. Because not enough people voted from those parties, the state told boards of elections to contact people in those parties and inform then that they could switch to another party, but they couldn’t vote in a future primary for the current party they were in. In Montgomery County, letters had to be sent out to about 3,000 voters in that category. Fulton County sent out 1,928 letters to registered voters in smaller parties due to the state purge from the general election.

Parties impacted included the Independence Party, Green Party and SAM Party.

But registered voters after the general election also have another reason to switch parties. They don’t like what’s going on their party and wished to switch. With Democrats winning the presidency and the Senate, one might thing that party would have a distinct advantage. But that wasn’t the case in Fulton County.

According to the Fulton County Board of Elections in Johnstown, the Republican Party had 15,463 registered voters in the county as of Dec. 31. But the party now has 16,177 registered voters as of Thursday — a gain of 714 voters.

The Democratic Party in the county also gained, but not as much. Fulton County had 7,003 registered Democrats at the end of 2020, but the figure rose by 489 to 7,492 by Jan. 14.

Fulton County Republican Committee Chairwoman Sue McNeil said Thursday that people in the county expressed their disgust with the Democratic Party to her last year before the election. She said some people felt Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer and House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi have treated outgoing Republican President Donald Trump very unfairly. McNeil said some of the disgust is born out of the “summer riots.” She said New York state has become more Republican.

“We’re just tired of what we’re seeing right now,” McNeil said.

The office of Republican U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik said Wednesday it also is noticing a trend favoring the GOP in the district. Office officials were asked if there has been a backlash against Trump and the Republican Party.

“No, county Republican Party committees have been inundated with positive feedback and messages of supports for Congresswoman Stefanik,” said Alex Degrasse, senior advisor to Stefanik.

The Montgomery County Board of Elections in Fonda reports that both major parties have seen gains in registration since the presidential election, albeit the numbers are smaller.

The county had 10,334 registered Republicans at the end of 2020, but the number jumped to 10,358 by Thursday. For the Democratic Party, the number rose from 9,064 at the end of the year to 9,080 this week.

McNeil said she talked to several people, including relatives, who expressed a desire to switch from Democrat to Republican. She said some people now are also upset the way Trump had his Twitter account taken away. She said social media in general hasn’t treated the president honestly.

“We’re not happy with social media,” she said of her party.

Fulton County Republican Election Commissioner Lee Hollenbeck explained Wednesday that enrollment often changes after gubernatorial and presidential elections. He said the state reviews voting activity statewide and decides which parties get to stay on the primary ballot. Otherwise, he said he hasn’t seen any larger shift to either party since Nov. 3.

“I have not, I don’t think so,” he said.

Hollenbeck said people can switch parties online by gaining the paperwork, which eventually have to be turned into the boards of elections. But he said people don’t have to provide a reason why they were switching parties.

Some of the other parties seeing changes in registration numbers since the end of the year were as follows:

Fulton County: Conservative Party — 610 to 640; Working Families — 153 to 158; Green Party — 73 to 74; Libertarian — 95 to 104; Independence Party — 1,610 to 1,688; SAM — one (stays same); and no party — 6,537 to 6,557.

Montgomery County: Conservative Party –701 (same); Working Families — 106 to 107; Green Party — 80 (stays same); Libertarian — 92 (stays same); Independence Party — 1,563 to 1,566; SAM — one (stays same); and no party — 6,826 to 6,852.

Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman Michael McMahon said Wednesday that the events of the day haven’t influenced too much in this area.

“I think people are still trying to process what went on last week,” he said. “People are just trying to figure out where they are at. I have not heard of anyone switching [parties].”

Montgomery County Election Commissioner Terrance Smith said changing parties is a daily occurrence.

“The paperwork to switch parties we get all the time,” he said. “I don’t know why.”

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