- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2008

Democrat Rebecca Schneider is not going to unseat Rep. Jeff Flake in Arizona‘s 6th Congressional District on Tuesday. She concedes as much.

The first-time candidate facing the popular four-term Republican in a conservative district has raised $5,000 to her opponent’s $1.2 million, but she didn’t expect to count among her other disadvantages a state policy intended to maximize the opportunity for voters to cast a ballot.

In Arizona, where election officials expect 50 percent of voters to record their choices before Election Day, early voting began Oct. 2 - a month after the state’s primary election. The compressed campaign season left little time for unknown candidates who had been fending off primary challengers to change focus, raise cash, shake hands and kiss babies at political events meant to sway undecided voters.

“I had spoken to folks in the middle of the [early-voting period] who said they had just heard about me,” Ms. Schneider said. “They said they would have supported me, but they had already voted.”

And because she faced a primary opponent, Democratic Party officials were reluctant to offer their financial backing until the nomination was decided, she said.

Ms. Schneider, who said defeating Mr. Flake would amount to “one of the biggest upsets ever in congressional history,” is not against early voting, although she said she would have preferred a longer campaign season.

Joseph Kanefield, Arizona’s state elections director, said the compressed schedule is a function of state laws that mandate primaries nine weeks before the general election and early voting 33 days before Election Day. He said the dates are unlikely to be moved.

“Like anything that’s been around a long time, it’s hard to make change happen,” he said.

Although Mr. Flake’s seat was unlikely to switch hands, early voting is a factor in other races as well.

In Wyoming, where about 20 percent of voters have already cast their ballots, Cynthia Lummis won the Republican nomination for the state’s lone seat in Congress on Aug. 19 with 46 percent of the vote to 37 percent for her closest competitor.

On Sept. 25, Wyoming voters were permitted to begin casting ballots in her tightly contested general election race against Gary Trauner, a Democrat. That race, to succeed retiring seven-term Republican Rep. Barbara Cubin, has been targeted by Democrats.

Nearly 18 million votes have been cast across the country, according to statistics by Michael McDonald, an associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University.

Nationwide, as many as a third of voters are expected to cast ballots before the general election, up from about 25 percent who voted early in 2004. That is consistent with what is expected to be historic levels of turnout for this year’s presidential election.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign has acknowledged the phenomenon, scheduling two full days of campaigning in Central and South Florida earlier this month to coincide with the start of early voting on Oct. 20.

Florida voted twice for President Bush but is now thought to be up for grabs.

North Carolina and Georgia have already surpassed their 2004 early-vote totals. About 200,000 voters cast their ballots in Georgia last Monday alone. About 1.2 million people, more than 20 percent of the state’s 5.6 million registered voters, have voted early in Georgia.

States such as Florida and North Carolina have announced that they’ll extend the hours at early-voting sites to handle the crush of voters.

Maryland does not allow early voting, although a constitutional question on the ballot this year could change that. The District began early voting on Oct. 20 for those who would be unable to vote at their polling stations.

Virginia also requires early voters to provide an excuse - although nearly any excuse will do. Election officials were encouraging voters to report to the polls early. The state was among the earliest in the country to open its polls, allowing voters to cast their ballots in some parts of the state, including Fairfax County, on Sept. 19 - the day before Mr. Bush outlined a $700 billion economic-rescue plan.

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