October 19, 2008 – Two weeks before Election Day, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is busily banking every early vote he can get in key states. Republican nominee John McCain is more selectively working to lock in the early votes of his most iffy supporters, figuring the rest will make it to the polls sooner or later.
Voters in every state can now cast ballots through early voting or absentee voting programs. Results won’t be released until Nov. 4, but a look at those who have voted shows the Democrats have been aggressive.
In Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina and Ohio, Democrats – or at least those living in heavily Democratic areas – are requesting and submitting ballots in large numbers. In Florida, Republicans hold an edge, while in Indiana, absentee voting has been split among Republican and Democratic areas.
President Bush won all six states in 2004, and McCain probably needs to win them all to claim the White House this year. The early voting snapshot, taken more than two weeks before Election Day, illustrates the strategies and strengths of both presidential campaigns.
Obama is pushing early voting on a grand scale, in speeches, e-mails, a Web site and even ads placed inside video games. Eighteen video games, including the extremely popular “Guitar Hero” and “Madden 09,” will feature in-game ads from the Obama campaign.
“We are trying to expand the electorate and expand the process,” said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.
Republicans, meanwhile, are targeting supporters who don’t always vote in presidential elections, believing they can get more reliable voters to the polls on Nov. 4, said Rich Beeson, political director for the Republican National Committee.
Obama could win the absentee vote race in some competitive states, but Republicans are hoping McCain will more than make up the difference on Election Day, Beeson said. The Republicans, with their extensive database of voter information, have long had a formidable get-out-the-vote operation.
Nationwide, about a third of the electorate is expected to vote early this year, thanks to expanded early voting provisions and fewer restrictions on absentee voting. That would be up from 22 percent in 2004 and 16 percent in 2000.
Ebonee Lusk, who voted early in Fort Wayne, Ind., said she couldn’t wait until Nov. 4 to cast her ballot for Obama. “I wanted to get in, cast my vote for Barack Obama and make sure my vote counts,” said Lusk, 28.
Leonard Goeglein, an 80-year-old Fort Wayne retiree, said he made sure to get his vote in for McCain before he heads to Florida for the winter.
“We’re going to get out of the cold weather for awhile so I had to vote early,” Goeglein said.
Absentee voting used to be reserved mainly for people who were unable to make it to the polls on Election Day, whether they were too sick to travel, away on business or serving in the military. This year, more than 30 states allow any registered voter to cast an early ballot, some in person and others by mail.
Election officials in many states report high demand for absentee ballots.
“Every presidential year it gets bigger as more people get comfortable with it and they understand the process,” said Iowa Secretary of State Michael Mauro. “It’s a fact of life that people in America like to do things at their own convenience.”
As of last Wednesday, about 300,000 voters had requested absentee ballots in Iowa, with registered Democrats requesting about 60,000 more ballots than registered Republicans.
There was a similar pattern in Franklin County, Ohio, a key county that includes Columbus, the state capital. As of last week, about 76,000 registered Democrats had voted or requested absentee ballots, compared to 41,000 Republicans and 89,000 unaffiliated voters.
Early voting in Ohio has sparked controversy, with Republicans challenging the legality of a weeklong period at the start of October when Ohioans could register and vote on the same day. State and federal courts upheld the voting window, and some Democrats predicted tens of thousands of college students would register and vote for Obama all in one step.
But only 13,141 voters went to the polls during the period, leading Republicans to mockingly dub it “Golden Week.”
In North Carolina, more than 200,000 voters went the polls in the first two days of early voting, last Thursday and Friday. Some 62 percent were registered Democrats while 22 percent were registered Republicans. On Sunday, the Cumberland County elections board added two early voting sites to accommodate people attending an Obama rally in Fayetteville, drawing criticism from state GOP leaders.
In Georgia, more than 540,000 ballots had already been cast as of Wednesday, eclipsing the total number of early voters in 2004. Georgia doesn’t track absentee ballots by political party, but many of those votes were in the Democratic strongholds of metropolitan Atlanta.
Also, black voters, who overwhelmingly support Obama, made up a disproportionately high percentage of Georgia’s early voters, accounting for 37 percent. Blacks represent 29 percent of the state’s 5.6 million registered voters.
Polls show Obama trailing McCain in Georgia, but high turnout among black voters could make the race more competitive.
In Florida, a perennial battleground, voters had requested more than 1.6 million absentee ballots, with registered Republicans requesting about 220,000 more ballots than Democrats, according to numbers compiled by both political parties.
Early voting is becoming more popular because voters like the convenience, campaigns want to bank votes and election workers want to ease crowding on Election Day, said Doug Chapin, director of Electionline.org.
“It’s exactly like TiVo,” Chapin said. “My favorite TV show is on at a time when I can’t watch it or it’s not convenient for me to watch it. It’s the same thing with voting.”