This year’s early balloting is underway, and by mid-to-late October it could yield indicators of the outcome. In North Carolina, nearly 3,000 ballots already have been returned by mail. On Friday, voters in South Dakota and Idaho began casting ballots in person.
Over the next month, the District and 34 states (including Maryland) will allow voters to cast early ballots without providing a reason — “no-excuse” voting. Virginia law requires that voters meet at least one of more than a dozen criteria, including anticipated absence on Election Day, disability, pregnancy or a lengthy commute to work.
Early votes are expected to make up the majority of ballots cast in battlegrounds such as Florida, North Carolina, Nevada and Colorado, where as many as 80 percent of all voters may be early. Two states, Oregon and Washington, conduct elections exclusively by mail, sending ballots to all registered voters about three weeks before the election.
The volume of pre-Election Day activity is expected to surpass 2008, when about 33 percent of 131 million votes cast in the presidential contest were early. That is nearly double the 15 percent who voted early in 2000.
President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have tilted travel schedules and messaging in battleground states toward early voters. The Obama campaign, which had considerable success turning out young and African American supporters through early voting in 2008, hopes to duplicate the feat this year.
In all-important Ohio on Monday, the president tried to fire up a young crowd by reminding them that they can vote as early as the beginning of October.
“You can start showing up and voting on October 2nd. That’s 15 days away,” he said, adding: “Young people, you got to use the early vote because you might not wake up in time on Election Day. I can’t have you missing class.”
As in 2008, Obama organizers have integrated early-vote turnout into their grass-roots efforts, data mining to identify voters with a history of turning out early and setting up “chase programs” to follow up by phone or in person with everyone who has received an absentee ballot.
By encouraging supporters to vote early, “we can focus our resources more efficiently on Election Day to make sure those less likely to vote get out to the polls,” Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher wrote in an e-mail.
Romney political director Rich Beeson said Obama owes his success with early voting in 2008 to an edge in resources because of his decision to opt out of public financing for his campaign. That put his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who took public financing, at a disadvantage. This year, with both candidates opting out, the playing field is closer to even.