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Voter Registration Ticks Up Ahead of Caucuses

Iowa's first-in-the-nation presidential precinct caucuses have led to an increase in voter registration in the state. (Iowa Secretary of State)
Iowa's first-in-the-nation presidential precinct caucuses have led to an increase in voter registration in the state. (Iowa Secretary of State)
February 1, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa - In order to participate in Iowa's first-in-the-nation presidential precinct caucuses tonight, you not only have to be registered to vote, but you have to declare a party affiliation.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is the state's commissioner of elections, and has new numbers about voter registration. So who has the edge, Republicans or Democrats?

"The number one political party in the state of Iowa is the ones who've decided to register as independents," says Pate. "They're not actually even choosing a party, and so those folks kind of go back and forth and that's the one the campaigns kind of try to track and encourage to pick one over the other."

The latest numbers show 727,000 Iowans are registered as independents, that's 112,000 more than registered Republicans, and 141,000 more than Democrats.

Caucus rules allow voters to change their party affiliation at the site of the caucus, so those independents are still targeted by candidates. Pate believes many of those independents actually do align themselves with one of the two major parties.

"For a lot of Iowans, and I think Americans in general, they don't know what party they really are with, and in some cases, some of them don't care to share it either," he says. "It's kind of like, 'That's a personal decision or choice, I don't really want to tell you.' So they just give the answer, 'I'm independent.'"

Iowa's motor voter laws allow a person to register to vote at the same time they get or renew their drivers licenses. The state's new online voter registration system has been popular as well, with more than 5,300 people registering to vote on-line in January alone.

The caucuses are a party-sponsored event, but Pate feels it helps democracy in the state.

"It plays a significant role for those who are listening," he says. "And that's the easy way, you know, when people want information, it's always there. So, it makes it a more of a challenge for campaigns because that means we have to be running a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week kind of campaign."

Delegates selected at tonight's caucuses will represent their precincts at county nomination conventions later in the spring.

Jeff Stein, Public News Service - IA