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GOP voter numbers surge ahead of registration deadline

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OKLAHOMA - With just hours left before the voter registration deadline, data from the State Election Board shows Republican numbers surging, as an increasing number of voters switch their party affiliation.

Approximately 16,000 voters changed their party affiliation since Sept. 1.

More than half - 8,500 - switched to align themselves with the Republican Party.

By contrast, only about 3,000 voters switched to the Democratic Party.

About 3,900 dropped Republican or Democratic affiliation to become Independents.

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"We’re seeing a huge increase in the number of Independent voters," said Bryan Dean of the State Election Board. "There are almost as many new Independents as Democrats in the last few weeks. The trends that we’re seeing are pretty much continuing the trends we’ve seen of late. For the last few decades, we’ve seen the number of Democrats is slowly decreasing and the number of Republicans is steadily increasing."

Party affiliations technically only matter in the primary elections, when voters must make decisions within their own parties.

This year, for the first time, Democrats opened their primary to Independents.

No matter the party, though, the State Election Board is expecting a higher turnout than the 2012 contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Ahead of Friday's deadline, it's seen a surge of 41,000 "new" registrations - for the first time ever or for the first time after moving to a new county - including about 24,000 in the last couple weeks.

"These numbers don’t really surprise me at all," said Richard Johnson, chair of the political science department at Oklahoma City University. "We have two flawed candidates, and Republicans are slightly more excited than Democrats are, but I think the driver in Oklahoma are the state questions, rather than the partisan trends."

Though Donald Trump is a "controversial" candidate who "cuts both ways," Johnson said, drawing in voters that want to vote for him and against him, the election is also important for seven referendums on the ballot.

The party changes, he said, are reflective of long-term trends in the state that show Democrats on the decline, despite a rocky session in the Republican-dominated legislature.

"I think Democrats do wonder where the bottom is," he said. "If you’re a Democrat, the last 10 years haven’t been great for you but you’re still trying to figure out where’s your bottom and where can you grow your party in the future."

But, Johnson cautions against jumping to too many conclusions in a state that's as red as they come.

He calls the presidential race a lock for Donald Trump, wondering if Clinton will carry a single county.

"Oklahoma is a very conservative state," he said. "It’s mostly, through its history, been considered a southern state. And, the momentum still is towards the Republican party."

Voter registration ends Friday afternoon. Download an application by clicking here, or visit a library, post office or your local election board. Applications delivered or postmarked Friday will make the deadline.