September 22, 2014 6:39 PM EDT

Absentee ballot requests have nearly doubled in the state of Iowa since 2010, according to government statistics released Monday, reflecting higher voter engagement ahead of November’s election to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.

With 43 days to go until the state votes, Iowa Democrats have a sizable advantage over Republicans in early voting numbers. Almost 58,000 Democrats have requested an absentee ballot this year, up from around 34,318 four years ago, said Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz in a statement. Republican absentee ballot requests are at 31,099, up from 12,710, and the number of independent or “no party” requests have increased from 9,664 to 23,043. Overall there have been 112,178 requests this year compared to 56,725 in 2010.

Dr. Kedron Bardwell, a political scientist at Simpson College, says it’s too soon to tell if the numbers indicated an “enthusiasm gap” in the race between Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley and Republican state senator Joni Ernst. Bardwell notes that the Iowa Republican Party has placed more of an emphasis on voting in-person over absentee ballots in the past, but that recently-elected party chairman Jeff Kaufmann had vowed to close the early voting gap.

“This shows they have a long way to go in that respect,” says Bardwell. “If we see the Republican absentee and early voting numbers continue to lag the Democrats well into October, we will know it is a symptom of a larger problem, with Republicans increasingly playing ‘catch up.'”

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