Independent — or independent? To make sure you're really unaffiliated, check your Maryland registration

When Nate Evans left the GOP in 2000, he didn’t want to be affiliated with a political party anymore.

So, he changed his registration to “unaffiliated” that same year, he said. Or so he thought.


In fact, the Maryland State Board of Elections counted Evans as a member of the “Independent” party because of how he changed his party affiliation. He had mistakenly signed up for one of a host of third parties cataloged by the state, although they are not listed individually on the voter registration form in the way that the major parties are.

“That’s crazy,” he said, upon learning last week of his registration status. “I need to go online and update my party affiliation.”

The number of Maryland voters registered as independents has grown faster than those for either major party since the 2014 midterms. The state elections board says the number of registered voters overall topped 3.9 million in September. That's just shy of the record high, set in January 2017.

In Maryland, voters who write in “Independent” instead of checking “Unaffiliated” on the form are placed into an “Other” parties category called “Others — Independent,” said Mary Wagner, director of the state election board’s voter registration and petitions division.

Marylanders can check their voter registration status using the election board’s Voter Lookup tool.

As of the end of September, the latest period for which the election board provides detailed numbers, 18 percent of Maryland voters were registered as unaffiliated.

The difference between being unaffiliated, commonly referred to as “independent,” and being a capital-I Independent has caused confusion at least as far back as June 2010, when Maryland’s Independent party was dissolved. The party was created in 2008 to get Ralph Nader’s name on the presidential ballot, said Joel Hirschhorn, a Chevy Chase resident who served as state party chairman at the time.

The election board sent letters to 35,754 registered members informing them of the party’s dissolution, Wagner said. The letter told members their status would be reclassified to “Others — Independent,” unless they changed their status to unaffiliated or designated a new party affiliation, she said. It turned out that many of its members hadn’t realized they’d been registered with a party in the first place, Wagner said.

Maryland’s voter registration application form lists the following options for those who do not wish to register with a state-recognized party: “Unaffiliated (independent of any party)” and “Other – Specify.” The language accompanying “unaffiliated” was added following the independent/Independent confusion in 2010, Wagner said.


“Today, I insist anyone forming a party run the name by me,” she said.

When asked why the state Board of Elections doesn’t put voters who write in “Independent” into the unaffiliated category by default, Wagner said that some voters may come from states that do recognize Independent parties. Either way, “you can’t win,” she said.

More than 25,000 Maryland voters are registered under “Others — Independent.”

Until this year, Chris Stone was one of them.

The 49-year-old Baltimore resident said he had intended to be unaffiliated with any political party when he registered to vote in Maryland in 2014. But, like Evans, he put down “Independent” on his registration form.

Earlier this year, he checked his party affiliation and became concerned that as a result of his registration error, he had been accidentally included as a member of the American Independent Party. That party was the subject of a 2016 Los Angeles Times survey that found nearly three-quarters of its California members had registered by mistake. Stone was not registered with the AIP, as it turned out, but fell into the “Others — Independent” category, which he switched to unaffiliated.


In Maryland, both “Others — American Independent” and “Others — Independent” are among 32 other parties. These are parties that the state does not officially recognize, meaning they do not qualify for a spot on the ballot.

Currently, the Democratic, Republican, Libertarian and Green parties are the only recognized parties in Maryland.

To become a qualified party, supporters must present the elections board with a petition of 10,000 valid signatures of registered voters who wish to join. To maintain its status, the party needs to win at least 1 percent of the vote for the top of the ticket during each statewide general election, or show that at least 1 percent of the state’s registered voters are affiliated with the political party.

Other “Others” in Maryland include:

» “Others — Bull Moose,” as in the nickname for former President Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party for the 1912 presidential race.

» “Others — Constitution,” the Maryland chapter of the far-right national Constitution Party (not to be confused with “Others — Constitutional”). The Maryland Constitution Party was a qualified party between 2008 and 2011.

» “Others — National Socialist,” part of the National Socialist Movement, one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the country.

Some of these parties may no longer have members. The state does not remove names listed under the “Others” category from its records.