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Up to a third of voters expected to cast ballots early

Video by Luke SHRAGO , Louis MASSIE


Latest update : 2008-12-09

In the run-up to the US election day, up to a third of voters are expected to cast their vote early to avoid long queues or the confusion that has disrupted previous elections. Early voting data show a high turnout among blacks and Democrats.



CINCINNATI - Some want to avoid long lines on election day. Some will be out of town. And some Americans are afraid confusion or controversy on Nov. 4 will prevent their vote in next month's presidential election.

For those reasons and more, an estimated 3.6 million Americans have already cast ballots in the contest between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama. Up to a third of voters are expected to vote in person or by mail before election day.

"I think this is a wonderful thing," said retired teacher Betty Fultz, 78, as she left a polling place in downtown Cincinnati where she had cast a ballot for Obama.

Her daughter Rosalind Fultz, 55, said the convenience of voting early -- avoiding long lines and voting without the pressure of someone waiting behind you -- was one reason she and her mother were voting early.

But the African American substitute teacher cited another reason that might speak to a new dynamic in America's early voting patterns: "We both support Barack Obama and his campaign has asked supporters to vote early. So we did."

Campaigns of both Arizona Sen. McCain and Illinois Sen. Obama have urged supporters to vote early.

A study of early voting data by George Mason University professor Michael McDonald shows a very strong turnout so far among blacks and Democrats in North Carolina, Florida and Georgia.

Early voting in previous elections has favored Republicans -- with Republican President George W. Bush winning the early vote in both 2004 and 2000.

More 'no excuse' early voting

But comparisons to previous years are difficult, in part because more states have approved so called "no excuse" early voting in person or by mail, allowing voters to cast a ballot before election day for any reason.

While early voting began weeks ago in some states, others have opened polling stations this week and still more have yet to open. Of the 50 states, 34 allow early or in-person absentee voting. Thirty-one allow "no excuse" early voting in person and 28 allow no-excuse absentee voting by mail.

In Ohio, too, more Democrats have voted early than Republicans, a trend Case Western Reserve University professor Alexander Lamis, an Obama supporter, said may be due to the enthusiasm Obama has generated, including among people who have never voted before.

Andrew Tribble, 57, was just such a voter. The African American dishwasher said he hadn't voted in years, but he joined a short queue at Cincinnati's red brick Board of Elections building to cast a vote for Obama.

"I may have to work on election day, and this is my day off," said Tribble, explaining his early trip to the polls. An Obama campaign worker had caught up to him as he got off a bus and urged him to vote early -- so he did.

The scene was similar in many early voting states, with voters sweating in long lines in Florida and Georgia but moving briskly in Arizona, where voting began nearly two weeks ago.

Mary Simmons, a retired dental hygienist from Fountain Hills, Arizona, said she made up her mind to vote for Obama about six months ago, and had driven into Scottsdale to vote early as she was concerned there might be some kind of glitch on Nov. 4 that might prevent her from doing so.

"The last time I voted in the primaries, I went to the polling place and they didn't have my name on the list," Simmons said. "(I wanted) to avoid all of that."

While both candidates are encouraging early voting, the campaigns have adjusted tactics to reflect the fact that political advertisements, mailings and rallies may come too late to sway votes if left to the final days of the campaign.

But timing is a tricky thing. Opinion polls have waxed and waned in recent weeks, with most now showing Obama with a solid national lead. Democrats may hope most supporters will vote now, in case that lead dwindles.

"If you're ahead in the polls two weeks before the election and bagging a lot of (early) voters ... you're not going to lose those voters if some dramatic event happens that changes the dynamic we see today," Lamis noted.

Early Arizona voter Colleen Hinnen dismissed the idea that, after nearly two years of intense campaigning, anything new could be revealed about the White House hopefuls.

"It seems like they have disclosed everything they could possibly disclose," she said. "I would wonder if it might just be a lie at this point if they suddenly find something."

Date created : 2008-10-23