Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

Tuolumne County residents vote at a higher rate than Californians overall, but fewer and fewer are affiliating themselves with major parties.

According to a statistical profile of the county released this week by the philanthropic Sonora Area Foundation, the local Democrat and Republican parties have both seen their numbers decrease steadily since 2004. Overall registration in the county has dropped since then as well.

However, a trend reaching back to 2000 continues today - increasing numbers of registered voters in the county declining to choose a party preference.

The numbers are included in the 2012 Tuolumne County Profile, an 85-page report that includes statistics on county population, age, employment, the environment, health, education and the economy, offering a current snapshot and tracking trends in those areas.

According to the report, Tuolumne County had 31,017 registered voters as of April, down from 33,373 in 2004. Of those registered in April, 13,192 were Republicans and 10,101 were Democrats. Those parties had 14,656 and 12,319 registered voters, respectively, in 2004.

Even with the overall drop in registered voters, the report's "decline to state" voters have grown from 3,464 in 2000, to 4,626 in 2004 to 5,860 this year.

Deborah Russell, Tuolumne County registrar of voters, said that is a statewide trend that's been discussed by elections officials.

"Neither party speaks to them like (the parties) used to," Russell said of the state's voters.

But even with those numbers, the Tuolumne County Profile shows that Tuolumne County citizens have a higher participation rate than the state average. According to the report, which used data from the state Secretary of State's office, 82.9 percent of eligible county voters were registered in 2010. Statewide, the number was 73.4 percent.

Russell said she believes the county's relatively small population contributes to higher participation.

"When you know more of the community, you just have people more involved than you have with probably a huge community where you may not even know your neighbors," she said. "And it's very obvious that your vote counts."

The 2012 profile is the second update of an ongoing study launched by the foundation in 2005. It is intended to give government agencies and local organizations a tool for organizing programs and writing grants.

This year's profile was completed by the Center for Economic Development at California State University, Chico.