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Official: Iowa caucus turnout on pace to match 2016 levels

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Turnout for Monday's Iowa caucuses was on pace to match 2016 levels based on early data, a state party official said, even as some sites reported long lines and a record number of people participating as Democrats began choosing a nominee to take on President Donald Trump.

It was too soon to tell what final turnout numbers will be, amid delays in reporting results. But Iowa Democratic Party Communications Director Mandy McClure said early indications were turnout was on pace to match 2016, when about 170,000 people participated. The high-water mark for the contest was the 2008 Iowa Democratic caucuses, when nearly 240,000 participated and Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and other candidates.

Some party officials and campaigns were expecting far more people to participate than four years ago due to Democrats' enthusiasm to replace Trump, and at least in some locations caucusgoers reported packed rooms and slow counts.

The start of a caucus in downtown Iowa City had to be delayed by more than an hour as hundreds of people were still waiting to check in or register to vote. Inside the Englert Theatre near the University of Iowa, 500 first-floor seats were mostly full and organizers were opening an additional 200 seats in the balcony.

In Polk County, Iowa's largest county and home to the capital city, Des Moines, Democratic county party chairman Sean Bagniewski said the party had printed tens of thousands of extra voter registration forms but some precincts were running out.

“We're making copies and deliveries to get them covered, but this caucus is gonna be the big one,” Bagniewski tweeted.

More than 500 people crowded into a room at the University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame in Iowa City to caucus, with many sitting on the floor. Around 400 people were at a high school cafeteria in Des Moines, and at another Des Moines precinct the caucus chair reported 844 participants, about double the 2016 number.

Iowa state Sen. Zach Wahls, the precinct chairman at his caucus in Coralville in eastern Iowa, said the 529 people who participated Monday was a record, surpassing the previous record by more than 100 people.

In Iowa City, cheers erupted in the packed theater after precinct organizer Lois Cox announced that the last people in line had finally made it inside the building. “We’ll start momentarily!” she said.

But Cox later said the delays had an impact on participation. About 50 people who signed in to participate left before the first choice, known as alignment, could be counted. As counting continued, the increasingly anxious crowd briefly chanted “Dump Trump!”

Among those attending Monday night's caucuses were some newcomers to Democratic politics. Of the record number who turned out at his Coralville caucus, at least 150 people filled out paperwork to change their party registration from independent or Republican to Democratic so they could participate, Wahls said.

Norman and Lenora Iverson, both 86, voted Democratic for the first time. Lenora Iverson said they've voted Republican “forever," but they joined with their daughter in caucusing for Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was viable at the caucus at Hoover High School in north Des Moines.

Why did they switch parties?

"We don't like Trump," said Norman Iverson, a retired electrical engineer. "We don't want him to be president anymore. We've had enough of him."

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Burnett reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers Scott McFetridge and David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa, and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to show that Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and other candidates in 2008, not Clinton and Martin O'Malley.