Politics

The Progressive Policies That Boosted Republican Turnout In Iowa

CREDIT: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Precinct secretary Michelle Anderson counts votes for Republican candidates during a caucus in Nevada, Iowa, Monday, Feb. 1, 2016.

Republican turnout in Iowa Monday night broke state records, with 182,000 Republicans showing up to caucus — tens of thousands more than participated in 2012 and 2008. The state’s Democratic Party mobilized 171,109 voters this year, which they noted was “one of our strongest turnouts ever,” though it was much lower than 2008.

The Iowa caucus system includes many barriers to participation — making it difficult or impossible for low-income parents, traveling residents, workers on an evening shift, or people with disabilities to have a voice in the process.

But Iowa has made it easier than ever this year to register to vote, implementing both online voter registration and election day registration for the first time in the state’s history.

Though the numbers of Iowans who both registered and caucused on Monday have not yet been released, multiple precincts reported that they ran out of registration forms and had to scramble to print more. Many caucus venues were packed past capacity. In the last four days leading up to the caucuses, nearly 1,500 Iowans registered to vote, according to the Secretary of State.

These measures were predicted to help Bernie Sanders, who has enjoyed massive support from younger voters and others who tend not to vote regularly. On Monday night, the Vermont senator came just a few delegates shy of beating national frontrunner Hillary Clinton, making the race the closest in Iowa history.

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, and his wave Jane acknowledge the crowd as he arrives for his caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Feb. 2, 2016.

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, and his wave Jane acknowledge the crowd as he arrives for his caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Feb. 2, 2016.

Studies in other states have found that allowing same-day voter registration boosts turnout by between seven and fourteen percentage points. Meanwhile, more states across the country, from Alabama to New Mexico, have recently implemented online voter registration as a way to save money and make civic participation easier. Thirty-two states across the political spectrum have given their citizens this registration option.

Yet some Republican-controlled state legislatures are fighting against both of these policies. In 2013, just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key federal voting rights protections, North Carolina passed a law eliminating same-day voter registration, cutting a full week of early voting, banning voters from casting a ballot outside their home precinct, ending straight-ticket voting, and scrapping a program to pre-register high school students who would turn 18 by election day. It also included the nation’s strictest voter ID requirement, which was challenged this week in a separate federal lawsuit. Another judge is currently weighing the rest of the law, which civil rights groups call an unconstitutional, intentional effort by Republicans to discourage voters of color.

In Ohio, students are suing the Republican legislature and governor for eliminating same-day registration and cutting several days of early voting. The student plaintiffs told ThinkProgress that the changes especially hurt students, residents of color, and lower-income voters, who are less likely to have the time and transportation options necessary to make separate trips to register and to vote.

Ohio Governor John Kasich, who is currently running for president, signed these measures into law. The state is now fighting over whether to allow residents to register to vote online. The Republican Secretary of State supports the proposal, but conservative groups are pressuring the legislature to delay the change, warning it could lead to voter fraud. Past investigations in the state have revealed that just .0002 percent of Ohio’s voters registered illegally in 2014.

North Carolinians gather outside the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem as the trial over the state's voting laws begins.

North Carolinians gather outside the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem as the trial over the state’s voting laws begins.

CREDIT: Alice Ollstein

The 2016 race now moves to New Hampshire, which also offers residents the option to register to vote on election day. Political science scholars are predicting a record turnout of at least 500,000 people.