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Kentucky Sec. of State: Independents fueling commonwealth's voter registration surge

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Lisa Autry
WKU students Blake Clark and Darinda Reddick recently worked a voter registration table on the Bowling Green campus.

Independents are now the fastest-growing share of the electorate in Kentucky.

Of 9,631 new voter registrations in August, Independents joined the rolls at nearly three times the rate of new Republicans and Democrats.

“We don’t ask people when they register why they’re choosing Independent and we don’t track whether that’s people dropping their party registration and becoming independent, or if they’re starting for the first time as an independent," Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams said.

Unaffiliated voters are actually the plurality in some other states, including Arizona and Massachusetts.

Following two years of stagnant voter registration, Kentucky is seeing a surge of new voters. One factor driving the increase is the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, which hampered the ability to hold voter registration drives.

Western Kentucky University Freshman Jack Zarotny stopped by a voter registration drive on campus last month.

"I know I didn't think about it or know how to do, so that's why I'm here," Zarotny said. "I'm sure I can figure it out because it's all online now, which makes it easier."

The 18-year-old from LaGrange will be voting in first election next month. Zarotny was instructed how to register from Political Science student Blake Clark of Russellville who was volunteering at the voter registration table.

"I think it's very necessary for college students to get politically active because we are the future and it should be up to us to start this political engagement," Clark said.

Kentucky political history was made in July as Republicans surpassed Democrats in registered voters for the first time.

According to the Secretary of State's Office, registered Republicans account 45.3% of the electorate while just under 44.9% of voters are registered Democrats. GOP registration increased by 3,266 voters in August. Democratic registration shrunk by 1,099 voters at the same time.

Voters registered as Independent or with other affiliations account for 9.8% of the voting population, yet remain the fastest-growing share of the electorate.

"Political allegiances are in flux," Adams said. "Any candidate for statewide office needs to not just hold the base, but also reach out to others."

Kentucky has a closed primary system, but Adams said Independents typically split their tickets when voting in general elections.

Oct. 11 is Kentucky’s deadline to register to vote in next month’s mid-term elections.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.