- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 2, 2004

A record number of early voters already have cast their ballots in today’s election, taking advantage of election reforms aimed at boosting voter participation, political analysts say.

Early voting was especially strong in Florida, scene of the 2000 electoral debacle that delayed final presidential results for weeks and where some Miami voters yesterday endured up to three-hour waits at polling sites.

In Leon County, where the 2000 recount battle was particularly intense, nearly 31,000 Floridians had cast absentee ballots by last week, more than three times the number of absentee ballots cast in 2000.

“We don’t have complete [early voter] numbers, so we don’t know how they voted. But what you do have is really long lines at voting places, which means we are going to have a high turnout this time,” said Curt Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.

Mr. Gans is predicting that at least 58 percent of the electorate will vote this year, a significant increase from the 51 percent turnout in 2000.

Whatever the total early vote is, “it will be a very modest proportion of Tuesday night’s count,” Mr. Gans said.

Traditionally, absentee or early voting has tended to favor Republicans, and exit polling of this year’s early voters lining up at courthouses, registrar offices and other early voting places seemed to confirm this.

An ABC News poll found last week that among those who had voted, 51 percent supported President Bush versus 47 percent for Sen. John Kerry.

Thirty-two states offer some form of early voting, and an Associated Press-Ipsos poll reported last week that 11 percent of voters across the country already had cast their ballots and another 11 percent had said they also planned to vote before Election Day. The poll found that early voting was especially prevalent in the Western states, with more than half of the ballots cast in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Washington.

In Washington state, officials said an estimated 60 percent to 65 percent of the entire vote was expected to be in early balloting. Oklahoma election officials said they had received 25,000 more requests for absentee ballots than they did in 2000.

There were several different ways to vote under early voting procedures, although not all of them are counted immediately or even on election night. Under absentee-with-cause voting, voters can go into a registrar’s office and cast a machine vote that tabulates it into the running total today.

Early voting at various satellite locations in a state, such as in Florida, are counted but not reported until later. Election officials begin to count mail-in absentee ballots on election night and for several days thereafter.

Both parties have devoted a considerable part of their campaign resources to encouraging early voting and were closely tracking these voters yesterday.

“The Democrats put a lot of effort into getting blocs of people to go in and vote early and people have taken advantage of it to some degree, but Republicans also have had an aggressive effort and absentee voting in the past has leaned Republican,” said Terry Holt, spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

But Democrats disputed that assertion yesterday.

In a memo to Mr. Kerry’s campaign staff, Karen Hicks, the Democratic National Committee’s national field director, said, “More than five million Americans in the battleground states have successfully voted already in the 2004 election through early vote and vote by mail.

“Of these, we have matched 3.1 million of these early voters from the battleground states back to our voter files, so we could know who has voted in these states. Of these 3.1 million, Democrats are outperforming Republican registrants by 6.25 percent,” she said.

In North Carolina, more than 20 percent cast early votes in some precincts. Officials said 8,700 people voted last Tuesday in Mecklenburg County alone. All told, nearly 57,000 people, or 11 percent of all registered voters, had voted.

In Iowa last week, early voting was up by 10,000 more votes than the 277,000 recorded four years ago. Among those who voted in the state’s largest county, Polk, close to 34,000 of them were Democrats, 18,000 were Republicans and 14,000 were independents.

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