On Monday evening, thousands of Iowans will gather in local caucuses to collectively register their choice for president.
With polls showing both the Democratic and Republican contests still extremely close, the unknown variable is whether insurgent candidates Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) can convince the infrequent voters buoying their campaigns to show up and caucus.
Many analysts consider this a tall order. Infrequent voters have, by definition, a history of reluctance to engage in the political process. And caucusing is an arduous, time-consuming endeavor that significantly dampens voter turnout.
But the Trump and Sanders campaigns’ reliance on new voters could pay off on Monday night because of a simple progressive voting right in Iowa: Election Day voter registration (EDR).
Unlike most states which set an arbitrary registration deadline as much as a month before the election, Iowa is one of 14 states plus Washington DC that have enacted EDR, also known as same-day registration. With EDR, citizens who haven’t previously registered to vote, or who have changed addresses since they last registered, can still cast their vote on Election Day.
The number of citizens without updated voter registrations is not trivial. One in ten eligible Iowans are not currently registered to vote at all, and more than 1 in 10 Americans move each year. Given the significant number of people in these potentially-disenfranchised groups, it’s little wonder that studies have found EDR boosts voter turnout by between seven and fourteen percentage points. Indeed, the one constant among the six highest voter turnout states in 2012 is that they all employ EDR.
Whether or not Trump and Sanders are able to turn out enough new voters to prevail in Iowa is yet to be determined. But if Monday’s election were being held in neighboring Missouri, where citizens cannot vote if they haven’t registered (or updated their registration) four weeks before Election Day, their campaigns would have a much more difficult climb.
No matter who wins Monday, both campaigns will soon have another opportunity to bring new voters into the fold in another EDR state: New Hampshire.