The Democratic Party has far outpaced Republicans in recruiting new registered voters in Suffolk County in the past year, especially in the South Fork towns, on the backs of city residents settling locally and aggressive efforts by local party leaders to recruit new members.
Suffolk is still a generally evenly split political landscape with the total number of Democrats only topping the numbers of Republicans and Conservatives by about 20,000 voters out of a total voter roll that topped 1 million for the first time last month.
Voters with no major-party allegiances still make up nearly a third of all voters in the county as well as in each of the towns, putting any election within reach of any candidate and making voter turnout the key factor in a region where no party holds an overwhelming advantage and cross-party voting in local elections is common.
Countywide, Democrats extended their slight electoral advantage in the last year, growing their registration rolls by 20,463 voters, compared to just 5,958 additional Republicans.
But voters who did not list any affiliation on their voter registration, a status known in political circles as “blanks,” accounted for the second largest category of new registrants with nearly 8,300, and total 265,156 in all. Another 57,000 voters are registered with the Independence Party or one of the tiny minor parties.
East Hampton Town Democratic Party Chairwoman Cate Rogers attributes the countwide rise of the Democrats to more young residents — who tend to be more liberal — taking interest in politics and that the Republican’s national platform stands at odds with the priorities of many of Suffolk County’s interests.
“As the Republican platform moves to the right on issues that impact us like income inequality and climate change, things that impact the whole county, you are seeing more people turn away,” Ms. Rogers said. “Here in East Hampton, we have a year-round population that much of it is living at or near the poverty level. A lot of issues that people don’t attribute to people that live in East Hampton, are what our residents live with. You see it at the food pantries.”
In the 1st Congressional District — where Republicans have always held a small enrollment advantage but party turnout has traditionally been the deciding factor in one of the few true “swing” districts in the House of Representatives — the Democrats increased their rolls by 7.8 percent, to just 2.2 percent for Republicans.
The GOP still holds a slight enrollment advantage of a little less than 3,000 of the district’s 494,594 registered voters, but Democrats have been closing the gap. There are nearly 155,000 blanks and voters registered under with the Independence Party.
In the district’s largest town, Brookhaven, Democratic growth doubled that of Republicans and the two parties are now about even, though more than 7,000 Conservatives may still give the GOP an advantage. There nearly 115,000 unaffiliated voters or those registered with other minor parties.
While the faster growth of Democrats may indicate shifting demographics, dissatisfaction with the Trump administration, or simply better recruiting by the Democrats, the district’s incumbent does not hear footsteps behind him, his campaign said.
“Congressman Zeldin is proud to receive support from Republicans, Democrats, and Independents,” said Lance Trover, a spokesman for U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin’s campaign, in an email. “The Congressman has received the endorsement of 34 labor unions, small businesses, and many others because of his bipartisan work to secure over a million pieces of PPE for Suffolk County, testing, ventilators and funding during the Coronavirus outbreak, his work to secure the $2 billion dollar Electron Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Lab, and much more.”
In East Hampton Town, Democrats have continued to bolster their firmly cemented hegemony. New Democrats made up 75 percent of all the new registered voters in the town since September 2019 and outpaced Republican registrations nearly 10 to 1. As of the start of this month, 1,408 additional names had been added to voter rolls in the town since a year ago — 1,057 of them Democrats, compared to just 142 Republicans and 231 blanks.
In Southampton, a Democratic tide that has been rising steadily for more than a decade — the party logged more voters than Republicans for the first time in the once Republican-dominated town in 2017 — the party added to its registration lead. It added 1,661 names to its rolls, 70 percent of the new voters registered in the town in the last year. Republicans added just 251, even fewer than those who registered as unaffiliated voters, 427 of whom registered in the town.
Democrats still make up far less than half the electorate, with 11,094 blanks and about 2,100 Independence registrants. But Democratic candidates for town government have taken over a super-majority on a Town Board that was almost entirely dominated by Republicans until the turn of the century.
Southampton Town Democratic Party Chairman Gordon Herr, who has overseen the party’s takeover of town government, said that the party continues to take aggressive steps to recruit new voters and those who it sees as being aligned with Democratic values but not engaged with politics. The party has mounted door-to-door efforts targeting unaffiliated voters and those registered with the Independence Party, in hopes of convincing them to shift their registration — because newly registered voters and those awakened to political issues are more likely to actually show up at the polls on Election Day.
He said he expects that dissatisfaction with the president and Mr. Zeldin’s close alliance with the president has energized Democrats in the district this year. Whether it be enough to put Democratic nominee Nancy Goroff on top, remains to be seen.
“People are extremely unhappy with the current administration,” he said, “but it’s always about turnout.”
East Hampton Democrats have made concerted efforts in recent years to convince second home owners to switch their voter registration to their Hamptons homes, selling the idea on the basis that their vote will carry more weight in the smaller venue than in New York City’s large and reliably Democratic boroughs.
Ms. Rogers’ Republican counterpart, Republican Party Chairman Manny Vilar, has tried to turn the success of the Democrats registration drives against them, saying that second home owners are out of touch with issues of local importance and vote based on ideological splits associated more with national politics.
He says the town GOP is trying to grow its registration rolls. Prior to the pandemic, Mr. Vilar had been holding Friday happy hour gatherings intended to appeal to unaffiliated voters and recruit young Republicans to more active participation in town politics but finds itself at a distinct practical disadvantage, he says.
“New York City is a Democratic town,” he said, acknowledging that the political makeup of the city’s second homeowners may not be quite the same as the demographic that includes the whole of the inner city’s poorer neighborhoods. But he also surmised that his party has hard a harder time recruiting New York City Republicans to switch their voter registration because more of them may be registered to vote in other states, like Florida, for tax purposes.
“We are always trying,” he said. “But there are just not that many Republicans here.”