The rush is on to vote early
Obama seems to be benefiting so far, but McCain forces are hustling to get their supporters out, too.
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The most detailed data so far has come from North Carolina, a generally Republican state that has surprised many pundits by being in play this year, and where Democrats have outnumbered Republicans more than 2 to 1 in some 750,000 early ballots cast so far. In 2004, Democrats also had a slight edge in early voting, but the gap was much smaller – 49 percent to 37 percent.Skip to next paragraph
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Republicans still have an edge among traditional absentee voters, says Professor McDonald, but about 85 percent of the votes cast so far have been at special polling places, rather than by absentee ballot.
Meanwhile, in Florida – another key state for both campaigns – Democrats have outnumbered Republicans in in-person early votes by nearly 2 to 1, though Republicans reportedly have the edge in absentee ballots.
Some analysts caution against reading too much into the early numbers, noting that most votes are still cast on Election Day, and sometimes a campaign’s get-out-the-vote effort can be exhausted by then.
In Iowa in 2004, Democrats made a huge early-vote push, but then lost the state to Republicans when they skimped on Election Day activities, earning criticism for a faulty strategy. This time around, though, Obama’s extensive resources may make that less of a concern.
“I don’t think he has to worry about making a zero-sum decision about whether to do early voting or Election Day voting,” says Mr. McDonald. “I think he can do both.”
The trend has been moving toward early voting for some time, with more states adding it, in some form, as a way to reduce lines on Election Day and to ensure that those voters who have difficulty getting to polling locations during voting hours on a single day can still cast a ballot. Campaign strategists note that the traditional 72-hour get-out-the-vote push has started to become a grueling 720-hour push in many states.
Early voting has some downsides, including logistical challenges for states.
“One of the biggest drawbacks to early voting is that something happens in the week or a few days before the election that might lead you to want to change your vote,” says Lawrence Norden, director of the Voting Technology Project at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School.
Still, Mr. Norden sees a lot of advantages, and he says that if Obama continues to be more effective at racking up early votes, “in two years or four years, I’d be very surprised if ... Republicans don’t make more of an effort to get more people to the polls early.”
In Littleton, Colo., on Wednesday, Christina Alexiades was pleased to be able to avoid crowds two weeks before Election Day. It was made even easier by an e-mail from the Obama campaign, reminding her to vote early and helping her find her nearest polling place.
“I wouldn’t have searched out that information on my own,” she says.