Wrapping Up the 2007 Votes for the 2008 Race

Mitch McConnell, fourth from left, says the odds of a GOP Senate takeover in 2008 are
Mitch McConnell, fourth from left, says the odds of a GOP Senate takeover in 2008 are "kind of tough." With him, from left, are Trent Lott, John Cornyn, Kay Bailey Hutchison and Jon Kyl. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray
Sunday, May 27, 2007

Here's a presidential pop quiz: Which state will cast the first votes of the 2008 presidential race?

Iowa? Wrong. New Hampshire? Nope.

Try North Carolina, where early voting begins on Dec. 17.

The Tar Heel State will be followed by New Jersey on Dec. 27, California on Jan. 2, and Florida and Illinois on Jan. 14. All told, seven states and the District of Columbia will be voting by the time the Jan. 14 Iowa caucuses roll around, according to a report compiled by MSHC Partners, a Democratic direct-mail firm.

Lost amid the hubbub of mega-states moving up their presidential primaries to late January and early February are the effects that absentee voting -- originally developed to allow those serving in the military to cast votes -- and polling places that will be open well in advance of their voting day might have on the nomination fight.

Access to absentee voting has been loosened dramatically in recent cycles as election officials try any means necessary to involve citizens in the electoral process.

Take New Jersey, for example, where a state law passed in 2005 lifted the requirement that voters provide some sort of reason for requesting an absentee ballot. This "no excuses" program produced a rapid increase in absentee voting in the Garden State in 2006 -- a trend likely to increase in the coming presidential primary.

In states where absentee voting or early voting at polling places is more established, large chunks of the vote are expected to come in before the actual primary or caucus day.

Nearly half of all votes cast in California's primary and general election in 2006 came in early. In Florida, almost one in three voters cast an early ballot last November.

If those trends hold up, a significant segment of voters living in these major states will have voted before they even know the results of the Iowa caucuses.

A savvy campaign can use that early vote to its advantage -- building a firewall in the event of a weaker-than-expected showing in Iowa or a strong foundation to capitalize on momentum gained in the Hawkeye State and beyond.

To do that requires the construction of massive voter-contact and voter-turnout programs to ensure that a campaign's most ardent supporters turn out early. And creating that sort of infrastructure costs money -- lots of money.

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