Many more Republicans in Boyle now than 20 years ago

Published 8:31 am Monday, December 4, 2017

After Tom Tye moved to Boyle County in the late ’80s, he went to the county clerk’s office to register to vote. He registered as what he was — a Republican.

“I wrote my name, address, checked the Republican box, slid it across to the court clerk, a deputy, and the deputy slid it back and said, ‘are your sure?'” Tye said. “I’m like, ‘what do you mean I’m sure?'”

Tye said the deputy told him “if you register Republican, you’ll never get to vote” because essentially every election was decided in the Democratic Party primary. At the time, Democrats made up a vast majority of registered voters in Boyle County.

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“Well, I’m going to leave it Republican for now,” Tye remembered telling the deputy.

Since then, there’s been a slow sea change in voter registrations in Boyle County, and things look a lot different today to Tye, who is now the Boyle County Republican Party chair.

Data from the Kentucky Board of Elections and the Boyle County Clerk’s Office show that, since 1995, voter registration has been trending toward Republican, with the result being a swing of around 20 percentage points in favor of Republicans over the 22-year period.

In November 1995, 74.3 percent of registered voters in Boyle County were Democrats, according to the Board of Elections. This November, Democrats made up about 52.6 percent of voters, according to data from Boyle County Clerk Trille Bottom.

A very similar shift happened in reverse on the Republican side: The GOP claimed about 20.3 percent of Boyle voters in 1995; it had 39.5 percent of them this November.

In terms of total voters, Democrats have added 1,056 to their numbers in Boyle County since 1995, growing from 10,488 people to 11,540. Republicans have added 5,611, growing from 2,860 to 8,663.

“There’s lots of things probably driving it, but I really think a lot of the voters have felt maybe a little bit alienated by the process,” Tye said. “… You’ve had a non-elected county judge-executive since 1978, for instance, and I think a lot of people are seeing that, going, ‘I still didn’t get a vote — it’s been run by one party.”

Tye was referring to something he has written about on The Advocate-Messenger opinion page previously: He says every judge-executive that’s ever served in Boyle County — they’ve all been Democrats — was first appointed to the position, meaning a non-incumbent Democrat has never won election to the judge-executive seat. 

Boyle County Democratic Party Chair Richard Campbell said he sees a lot of support for local Democrats; he thinks state and national politics are really the driving force in voter registrations.

“I can’t deny that that’s occurred,” he said of increasing Republican registrations. “I’m not convinced that the change in registration will result in what the Republicans think … that that’s going to permit them to take over the local offices. I think people are pretty well pleased with what’s occurred in county government, and I think their view of the local Democratic Party is different than their view of the national Democratic Party.”

Tye acknowledged state and national trends likely play a big role in the voter registration trend.

Statistics that Tye collected from Board of Elections show Boyle’s registration trend mirrors somewhat the trend in Kentucky: Since 2008, the percentage of registered Republican has risen from 36.3 percent to 41.1 percent, while the percentage of registered Democrats has fallen from 57.2 percent to 50.3 percent.

Tye pointed to Donald Trump winning Boyle County “pretty handily” in the 2016 presidential election as evidence that national politics are currently helping the Republican Party grow its numbers.

“Whether you like Trump or not, I think it reflects some of the fiscal conservative values, some of the social values that a lot of Kentuckians have,” he said.

Tye said some of the Boyle Republican Party’s efforts to grow recently have included identifying registered Democrats in the county who voted for Trump.

“We’ve reached out to those folks and said, ‘We’d love to have you,'” he said.

State politics have been a benefit as well, Tye said, calling the reaction at the state level from Democrats after Republican Matt Bevin won the gubernatorial race in 2016 “unbecoming.”

“Lifelong Democrats felt offended by how they were being represented,” he said.

Tye said he can’t say for sure how much of the growth in the Republican Party is from people formerly registered as Democrats switching — there are too many other factors to consider. But he suspects that a good number of new Republicans are former Democrats.

Asked if the addition of former Democrats to the local Republican Party is changing the makeup and priorities of the Republican Party, Tye said, “totally — yes.”

“We’ve still got the Republican Party platform, sure. But I like to think of the Boyle County Republican Party being an open tent,” he said. “Your views may not be totally with mine, but none of us want old people cold and hungry; none of us want little kids hungry; no one wants people in bad health and not having medical. I think we can all agree on 99 percent of what we want to go right in the world. We probably only disagree on 1 to 2 percent of things.

“So I think the public is, by and large, discovering that, hey — this party agrees with a lot of the same things I like.”

But the Republican Party remains in the minority in Boyle County right now, and Campbell said he’s optimistic about how well-run the local Democratic Party is.

“I’m not sure what you can do other than offer the people good candidates and good policies locally,” he said. “… So far, we constitute a pretty strong slate of Democratic candidates for this coming election year.”


In order to be eligible to vote in 2018 primary elections, voters must have registered for a particular political party no later than Dec. 31. Boyle County Clerk Trille Bottom said while people can change their registration online up until that date, the last day to register in-person at the clerk’s office will be Thursday, Dec. 28.