Early voting numbers continue to rise
Early voters, trying to get a jump on general election, line the sidewalk on Harden Street at the Richland County administration building, Monday, November 5, 2012, in Columbia, South Carolina. (Tim Dominick/The State/MCT)
WASHINGTON - With less than a week before Election Day, Americans have taken full advantage of early voting in battleground states, signaling another record-breaking increase for early voting turnout.
This year, early voting is expected to account for 35 percent of all votes. More than 20 million voters had cast their ballots as of Thursday, a 10 percent increase from the 2008 election, when early voting rose 20 percent from 2004, Michael McDonald said. McDonald is an associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University who keeps a close eye on early voting with his United States Elections Project. Before early voting started, McDonald projected 35 percent of votes would be cast early.
"It looks as though we are on track to at least meet or exceed the number of absentee ballots cast nationally from 2008 levels, and we have a good shot at reaching that 35 percent," McDonald said.
Geoffrey Skelley, political analyst at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said the upward trend is due to more states opening up access for absentee voting for any reason or early voting in person at special locations.
The five states with the highest early voting turnout so far, in order, are Florida, Texas, California, North Carolina and Georgia.
Christopher Mann, an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Miami, said, "States such as these have had a strong history of high levels of early voting, which is a product of political culture in terms of the way in which political campaigns and nonpartisan organizations think about encouraging voting."
In Oregon and Washington State, all voters receive mail-in ballots. Voters cannot vote in person.
A handful of states, including Texas and Indiana, offer early voting for any reason. Ohio and Wisconsin allow voters to request a mail ballot for any reason without an excuse. Other states, including Pennsylvania and Virginia, permit early voting only to those with a valid excuse. Excuses include being out of state on business, school or vacation. Voters who are ill, disabled, pregnant or active duty military or who are confined and awaiting trial or who have religious obligations can also vote early.
Florida and North Carolina offer early voting at special polling locations and no-fault absentee balloting.
Increased early voter turnout is occurring in the Virginia Senate race as well. Former Democratic governor Tim Kaine, and former Republican governor and senator George Allen are in a tight race and early voting has been instrumental.
In a conference call Wednesday, Kaine's senior adviser Mo Elleithee said, "We are beginning to - break away is a little strong - inching into a lead. This is all predicated on one very important factor, and that is turnout. We feel good about the ground operation. We feel good about turnout. We feel good about what we've done so far. I think these polls reflect the higher the turnout, the better it is for us. That's sort of the remaining wild card."
District officials opened polling places in each of the city's eight wards. They were closed for two days as Hurricane Sandy hit the city and will stay open late through Saturday to make up for the lost time. The D.C. Board of Elections & Ethics said more than 15,000 voters had cast their ballots as of Wednesday.
Anne Theisen, 52, a self-employed bookkeeper for small businesses in Washington, voted Thursday so she can help other people vote on Election Day. She cast her vote at a city office building near the local courthouse.
"It's good to have early voting available because it helps working people to be able to have the flexibility," Theisen said. "Having that expanded privilege is really good in helping voter turnout."
Emily Wilkins also contributed to this article.
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