By Joseph Sapia
Many people think of Monmouth County as Republican. But while many positions of power are held by the GOP, there are more registered Democratic voters in the county than Republicans.
If one were to look at the political affiliation of the Monmouth County-wide elective seats – Sheriff, Clerk, Surrogate and Board of Freeholders – all eight seats are held by Republicans.
As for the two state legislative districts entirely in the county, the 11th and 13th districts, they break down into two Republican state senators, two Republican Assembly members, and two Democrat Assembly members.
That works out to 12 Republicans, two Democrats.
Add in the 12th and 30th legislative districts and the 4th and 6th Congressional districts, although they sprawl into other counties, and the breakdown is two Republican state senators, four Republican Assembly members, one Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives and one Democrat member of the House of Representatives.
Hence, the county’s reputation as Republican. So, it may surprise the public that there are 117,789 registered Democrat voters in the county to the Republican’s 114,279.
But, according to political observers, it is those registered voters unaffiliated with a party – 213,345, or about 48 percent of the overall 446,831 registered voters – that make the difference by leaning Republican when they cast their ballot.
“It’s obvious who would push them over, the unaffiliated,” said Mary DeSarno, the county superintendent of elections/commissioner of registration.
This leads to the old joke: What is an unaffiliated voter in Monmouth County? It is someone who moved to the county and does not want to tell their Democrat family back in Hudson and Essex counties they are now voting Republican.
“We get a lot of newcomers who were registered as Democrats and moved to our county and find the Republicans are doing a good job and begin to vote Republican,” said state Sen. Jennifer Beck, a Republican who represents the 11th Legislative District.
County Democrat Party Chair Vin Gopal said unaffiliated voters in Monmouth County generally vote Republican and the GOP has a machine in place.
“(But) we’ve watched that machine crumble,” said Gopal, pointing to such Democrat victories as those in 2015 of 11th District Assembly members Joann Downey and Eric Houghtaling, the first time since 1991 a Democrat has won that district.
Of the county’s 446,831 voters registered for the Tuesday, Nov. 8, General Election, 423 are members of the Libertarian Party, 298 Green Party, 296 Conservative Party, 198 U.S. Constitution Party, 88 Socialist Party, 85 Natural Law Party and 30 Reform Party.
Only voters registered by the Oct. 18 deadline can take part in the general election. 17,000 more voters are registered to vote in the Nov. 8 general election than were registered for the June 7 primary elections, an increase of about 4 percent.
In a general election, voters do not have to follow their registered party lines, leaving an open ballot.
“It’s so hard to predict what’s going to happen in an election,” Houghtaling said. “But I think the independents (unaffiliated) are critical to an election.”
Additionally, it is a presidential election year.
“I know the presidential (election) is getting people out to vote,” said Lillian G. Burry, a Republican member of the county Board of Freeholders.
It is a topsy-turvy presidential election year, with blatant differences between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, along with both passionate voter support and dislike for the two.
“I think it’s going to break even,” Gopal said. “Maybe Trump wins Monmouth County, maybe Clinton, but it should be competitive.”
Will there be a coattail-effect from the presidential race down the ballot?
“I’m not sure what’s happening this election,” Houghtaling said. “A lot of people’s minds aren’t made up or they’re not saying because they dislike both candidates.”
Monmouth County voters have a thoughtful, independent streak, Gopal said. “I don’t think there’s going to be coat-tailing. I think Monmouth County voters are smart, they have a history of zigzagging the ballot. I think they’ll do it again.”
The results are “very difficult to predict, because Monmouth County has a past history” of an independent streak in its voters, Beck said. In her 11th Legislative District, President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Gov. Christ Christie, a Republican, both carried the district two times.
Beck pointed to her hometown of Red Bank, where Democrats outnumber Republicans about 2 to 1. Yet Republicans win there, Beck said.
“Residents have a willingness to vote person over party,” Beck said. “I think that’s a Monmouth County trademark.”
On Election Day, the polls are open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. The county has 458 voting districts, using 916 voting machines.
Any voter turned away at a voting machine can vote by provisional, or paper, ballot or take the case to a state Superior Court judge. Judges will be on duty Election Day at the county Special Services Complex, 300 Halls Mill Road, Freehold Township.
Early voting is already taking place.
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