- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

BOSTON (AP) - An unusually high number of unenrolled Massachusetts voters, including some who recently left the Democratic party, could be drawn to the Republican presidential primary on Tuesday, the state’s top election official said.

Secretary of State William Galvin, a Democrat, predicted 700,000 or more of the state’s voters would take GOP ballots. By contrast, about 500,000 votes were cast in the GOP primary in 2008, and about 370,000 in 2012, with former Gov. Mitt Romney winning both those contests.

Among the signals that Republican voting could be higher in the Bay State this time around, Galvin told reporters Monday, is the fact that nearly 20,000 residents have left the Democratic ranks since the start of the year. The majority of those voters switched their registration status to unenrolled, while others became Republicans.

The newly-unenrolled voters could still choose Democratic ballots on Tuesday, Galvin noted, but the movement likely signals a surge of interest in the heated Republican race.

“I think it’s obvious to everyone that the nature and tenor of the Republican contest, both here in Massachusetts and throughout the country, is very different from almost any Republican event we’ve seen in recent times,” said Galvin.

Polls have shown Donald Trump leading among likely Massachusetts voters. U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson are also seeking the Republican nomination.

Galvin also foresees a solid turnout for Tuesday’s Democratic primary between former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, but he is not certain it will match the 1.2 million who voted in 2008 when Clinton defeated then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Both Clinton and Sanders scheduled campaign stops on Monday in Massachusetts, one of 12 states holding presidential contests as part of Super Tuesday.

Voters registered in a political party must vote in that party’s primary; unenrolled voters can vote in the primary of their choice.

More than 53 percent of the state’s 4.2 million registered voters are unenrolled. Just under 35 percent are registered Democrats and fewer than 12 percent are enrolled in the GOP.

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