Voter rolls exceed 2.9 million

A flurry of last-minute registrants extended the record number of Kentucky voters to more than 2.9 million, with Democrats seeing the biggest boost as they ended their two-decade-long slide in registration percentage.

But Kentucky didn't see the types of gains — both in numbers and percentages — in Democratic registration as other states where the presidential election is competitive, such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.

Much of the gains in those states can be attributed to outside groups that are scrambling to register any and every eligible citizen they can, said Steve Voss, associate professor of political science at the University of Kentucky.

"It's almost an artificial increase. Here, it's more of a natural process where people are choosing it on their own," he said.

Since May 20, Kentucky has had a net gain of 49,578 registered voters, according to figures released by Secretary of State's office Wednesday.

Of those new voters, about two-thirds chose to be Democrats. That influx of voters increased that party's share of the state's voters to 57.2 percent, up from 56.9 percent at the time of the November 2007 election.

This marked the first time that party increased its percentage since between the 1988 and 1989 elections, when it hit 67.6 percent of Kentucky voters.

Still, despite the recent Democratic spike and the overall registration numbers in which Democrats outnumber Republicans 1.66 million to 1.05 million, the state is expected to vote solidly for GOP presidential candidate John McCain.

"Partisan loyalties are much weaker here than they are in the average U.S. state," said Voss, who specializes in voter behavior. He noted than some Republicans in southern Kentucky tend to have pro-union stances that are similar to those of traditional Democrats, while many registered Democrats in Western Kentucky tend to think of themselves as conservatives.

"That being said, there are definitely more loyal Republicans than loyal Democrats in the state, so Republicans go into a Kentucky election starting out with a solid advantage," Voss said. "A shift toward the Democrats in a fairly Republican state just makes you a mildly Republican state."

Also, unlike other states that have open primary election systems that allow independents to cast ballot, Kentucky requires voters to declare their affiliation the December before the election in order to vote in that party's primary.

As a result, independents and others, such as Libertarian, Constitution and Green party voters, comprise just 6.57 percent of Kentucky voters. That's a fraction compared with the 20 percent to 30 percent in other states, such as New Jersey, or 45 percent in New Hampshire.

But that group saw the largest percentage jump with more than a 2 percent increase since May.

"I think that's attributable to more and more young voters ... registering because it's a presidential year," said Secretary of State Trey Grayson.