DES MOINES (AP) — The Iowa Democratic Party has welcomed a surge in early voting, but its success in turning out supporters comes at a time when Republicans have taken a lead in registered voters.
With Election Day a month away, nearly 9,000 Iowa Democrats had cast ballots as of Friday, compared with about 2,600 Republicans and 2,200 people not affiliated with a party. Early voting began Thursday.
“It's a cause for concern for the Republicans, but I wouldn't hit a panic button yet,” said Michael McDonald, a government and politics professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., who tracks early voting trends across the nation. “There's still ample opportunity for Republicans to re-emerge as early voters.”
Megan Stiles, communications director for the Republican Party of Iowa, said, “Republicans tend to actually prefer to go to the polls and pull the lever so to speak on Election Day.”
One advantage Republicans could have in Iowa is their slight lead on Democrats in voter registration.
As of August there were nearly 621,000 registered Republicans and about 602,000 Democrats. Both were outnumbered by the more than 666,000 registered voters not aligned with a political party.
The Republican advantage comes after a stretch during which Democrats held a voter registration lead.
In November 2006, Democrats were up by more than 18,000 voters, and that increased dramatically in 2008 during a highly competitive Democratic caucuses campaign and an extended primary. By November 2008 there were roughly 690,000 registered Democrats — about 100,000 more than Republicans. The 711,000 nonpartisan voters still held a lead over both parties.
The Democrats' lead narrowed steadily amid a high-interest Republican primary for governor in 2010 and competitive GOP presidential caucuses this year. By April, registered Republicans had overtaken Democrats.
From January through August, Democratic registrations fell by 41,587, and no-party voter registrations were down 53,126. Republican registrations rose by nearly 6,000 voters over that time.
The state had 89,000 fewer active voters in August than in January.
Part of the change can be attributed to a cleanup of the voter registration rolls that Republican Secretary of State Matt Schultz announced in February. That involved confirming current addresses of voters by mailing notices.
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires election officials to remove the names of voters who have died, those who confirm they have moved to a different voting jurisdiction, and those who fail to respond to address confirmation mailings. Those who have not voted in two consecutive federal elections after the mailing also should be removed.
Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky said she has no qualms with Schultz over this year's voter roll maintenance. She said Democrats likely lost more registered voters from the rolls because many of the party's new registrations in 2008 were students “and they literally don't live here now.”
Dvorsky said it's not surprising Republican registrations are up, with all the activity in the party, but she maintained that the voter registration figures had limited importance.
“We haven't had that kind of registration drive, really, since our caucuses in 2008,” she said. “The next time there are big reasons to get out and find new Democratic registrants we will.”
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