Voters shift, but GOP still top party

TOPEKA — Democrats and unaffiliated voters gained numbers in Kansas but Republicans are still the party of choice for most in the Sunflower State.

Secretary of State Chris Biggs released voter registration numbers Friday for the Aug. 3 primary and predicted a 19 percent voter turnout.

Voters had until July 19 to change their party affiliation or register to vote. The voter rolls added 53,818 voters, growing to 1.7 million this year, up from 1.65 million in 2008.

Statewide, Democrats gained 11,260 voters, rising to 460,318; unaffiliated voters increased 38,764 to 490,395, and Republican ranks increased 3,189 to 744,975.

"Republicans have a generational problem right now with appealing to those voters who are coming onto the rolls...," said Kansas State University political science professor Joe Aistrup.

While the tea party rallies have been gaining a lot of attention, many of those voters are "vocal and already mobilized," he said. The movement isn't one that is likely to change voter registration numbers drastically.

He anticipated that voters affiliated with tea parties would have more of an impact in the general election in November.

"While they aren't registering new voters, they are highly motivated and will be participating at higher levels," he said.

In Sedgwick County, the voter registration trends closely reflected what happened statewide. The county has 255,829 voters on its rolls for the current primary election cycle, up from 241,030 in 2010.

As with the statewide numbers, the number of unaffiliated voters grew the most, increasing 13,694 from 2008's 64,297 to 77,991. Democratic ranks grew by 1,518 voters to 71,609, up from 70,091 in 2008, while the county GOP lost 539 voters, decreasing to 104,558 from 105,097.

Aistrup said the growth in unaffiliated voters was also a nationwide trend.

"Right now, there are many people who are a little disappointed in both political parties," he said.

Kelly Arnold, chairman of the Sedgwick County GOP, said the small decrease in registered Republicans wasn't a large concern.

"There would have to be a major, major shift to tip the scales," he noted.

The party has been working toward this election cycle for six years, he said, knowing that there would be multiple statewide offices up for election and that U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback planned on stepping down from his federal seat.

The party is encouraging Republicans to participate in the primary and the general elections, he said.

"The more people that you get out to vote, to get involved in the process, the more likely that those voters will stick with the Republican party candidates in the general," he said.

Lyndsay Stauble, executive director for the Sedgwick County Democratic Party, said the increased numbers of registered Democrats pleased her.

"I'm not at all surprised by numbers like that; there is a growing number of people looking for good governance, and they know that the Democratic party is a good choice," she said.

The county party had been focused on talking to people about the upcoming elections, she said. While voter registration has not been a big focus of the effort, it was a natural trend for people wanting change.

"It will have a positive impact, but we are always working hard no matter how many Democrats we register," she said.

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