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September 14, 2004

Numbers, Numbers! What's in a number?

Alan Imhoff

As we enter the final stages of the Presidential Election, polls are taken to see who is ahead, to see who is winning the numbers game this week. Numbers rise and numbers fall; it is a toss up when you factor in the margin of error used in most polls.

Lately the Democrats in this county seem to be favored in the latest numbers on new registrations, but does that mean anything?

According to the numbers published on the Frederick County Board of Election website as of August 1, 2004, the Republicans have the advantage 51,357 to 41,423.

But as has been stated elsewhere, do not forget those 18,687 "Undecided" voters who have chosen very specifically not to belong to one of the two main parties.

So who is really winning?

Well, based on some quick research of that website the "Undecided" voters are gaining quite handsomely over the rival two parties. The "Undecideds" have grown 4.4% over the reported numbers from a year ago, while the Democrats have decreased seven/tenths of one percent and the Republicans have decreased 2.3%.

The same website produced a report dated September 2, 2003, that I used for this comparison.

While the numbers involved are not great, a net gain of 791 "Undecideds" to a net loss of 301 Democrats and 1,197 Republicans. Peeling back the onion - so to speak - begins to uncover some potential trends that the established parties might need to consider.

District 3A (the greater Frederick City area) gained 106 "Undecideds," while losing 638 Democrats and astoundingly 1,397 Republicans.

When looking at District 3B (the eastern and southern ends of the county) "Undecideds" was the big winner in the numbers game, Democrats grew 4.3% or 370 voters to the Republican's 208 voters or just a 1.9% growth. However, those pesky "Undecideds" grew at an 8.6% rate or 331 more than a year ago.

District 4A (the western and northern ends of the county) presented an interesting set of numbers; both the Democrats and Republicans had a net loss of 30 voters each, while our favorite "Undecided" voters grew by 305 over this same year.

When you peel away another layer and look at the precincts, it becomes a slight bit more interesting. I do, however, need to place a caveat on what I am about to share. Due to the addition of several new precincts and re-adjustment of some precinct lines, this analysis made some assumptions to best fit the new to the old. Here goes.

In District 3A of the old 22 precincts, the Democrats gained in seven while the Republicans did not increase their count in any. However, the "Undecideds" gained in 10.

In District 3B of the old 11 precincts, the Republicans gained in 4 while the Democrats added in 3, but once again those "Undecideds" gained in seven.

In District 4A there were 22 precincts, the Republicans gained in 10, the Democrats in eight and you guessed it, the "Undecideds" gained in 15.

So those of you who want to take this further, good luck.

But to close out this bit of trivia on numbers here in Frederick County, in 2003 approximately 62% of those eligible to vote were registered, this year (and my second caveat, as the numbers are not official) is that only 60% of those eligible have registered.

With fewer people even bothering to exercise their right to vote by registering, with fewer of those registered even bothering to come out on Election Day and vote, to paraphrase a line from history "Winchester Hall, we have a problem."

Now throw into those declining numbers the strong growth of the "Undecideds" and the dynamics of the two local parties will need to adjust.

This coming November 2nd will be a confirmation of this trend as those of us who do vote exercise that right. The numbers will tell the "rest of the story."

So, to my fellow Democratic Party members and to my friends in the Republican Party, let's do a better job of telling our entire population why they should register to vote and once registered, why they should vote.

Whether they choose one of these two main parties, or any of the other parties or they just decide to be "Undecided" should not matter. What matters is keeping democracy healthy and debate between views honorable; otherwise we run the risk of losing both.

I'll be working this November 2nd as I have for the past 16 years, making sure that when you do come to vote, it is open, easy and fair. More than choosing the next President is at stake.

Hope to see you on November 2nd.

[Editors Note: The official name for those who decline to register to vote as Republican or Democrat (or any other political party) is "unaffiliated." At one time they were called officially "declines."]

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