A stack of counted and signed ballot envelopes at the Marion County Elections Office on Tuesday, May 19. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Following national and statewide losses in the 2020 election as well as divisions within its ranks, fewer people are registered with the Republican Party in Marion County and Oregon.

Since the November election, the Oregon Republican Party has shed 11,000 voters registered with the party, according to state numbers. As of January 2021, the party had 753,195 voters, a 1.4% decrease from October numbers. In Marion County, the party saw a decrease of 672 voters registered during the same period, a 1% decrease. Currently, there are 63,390 Marion County voters registered with the party, accounting for 29% of the county’s electorate (the same percentage as Democrats).

Democrats in Marion County shed under 400 voters, less than 1%, and have 63,714 registered voters.

Marion County Clerk Bill Burgess said in an email that his office makes administrative updates to the voter rolls in November and December following the election.

“January numbers may be more reflective of people moving out of county and those motivated to change their party,” he said. “And, of course, we are entering new to county voters every day.”

Mike Adams, the newly elected chair of the Marion County Republican Central Committee, shrugged off the loss of registered voters.

He said it’s common for voters registered as Democrats or unaffiliated to switch to the GOP to vote in its primary. If the candidate these voters crossed over to support doesn’t win, they’ll switch back, he said.

“Every election cycle you’re going to see ups and downs in voter registration,” he said. 

Adams said voters are also being fed a negative narrative about the Republican Party by the media, which he said hasn’t helped.

He pointed to how the GOP has seen voter registration gains over the last two years. The party added nearly 47,000 voters statewide and over 4,000 in Marion County since January 2019. The state added 57,000 unaffiliated voters during this time period as well and nearly 5,000 in Marion County.

Currently, Democrats hold commanding majorities in the Legislature and all statewide offices. Democrats also picked up a Salem area Senate seat last election long held by Republicans. A Republican hasn’t been elected governor since 1982.

Recent fissures have emerged in the party. In January, the state party passed a resolution giving credence to conspiracy theories that the ransacking of the U.S. Capitol building earlier that month was staged. The resolution stated there was “growing evidence that the violence at the Capitol was a ‘false flag’ operation designed to discredit President Trump, his supporters.”

The Oregon House Republicans responded with a statement distancing themselves from the resolution, saying there “is no credible evidence to support false flag claims.”

Knute Buehler, the GOP nominee for governor in 2018, told The New York Times that the resolution was reason enough for him to leave the party and become an unaffiliated voter.

Other Republicans have followed his lead. State numbers show that the number of unaffiliated voters in Oregon has increased by more than 10,000 to 949,558 since Election Day.

Between October 2020 and January 2021, the number of registered voters in Marion County increased by nearly 500 to 215,490. During that time, the number of non-affiliated voters increased by about 1,000 to 74,203.

Polk County saw the number of registered Republicans decline by less than 300 to 19,364, or 1% since Election Day.

The most high-profile Polk County Republican to distance himself from the party is state Sen. Brian Boquist. According to the Legislature’s website, Boquist is now a member of the Independent Party.

Boquist did not respond to questions explaining his switch in party affiliation.

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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