With 11 days to go before Election Day, some 7.5 million Americans have already cast their ballots in early voting centers around the county.
Early voting is on pace to break records in many states and for the country as a whole, said George Mason University Professor Michael McDonald, who runs the United States Election Project, an information source on the electoral system.
“Usually it starts as a trickle then … it gets greater and greater as we get closer to the election,” McDonald told the Online NewsHour of past early voting. “What’s curious here is a very high level of early voting in this election when we should be seeing a trickle.”
In just a few days, Georgia’s early voting turnout surged past 2004’s early voting tally. North Carolina is expected to overtake its 2004 tally in the next day or two of voting.
“In 2004, one out of every five Americans voted early, and if reports so far this year are any indication, an even larger proportion will wake up on Nov. 4 with their ballots already cast,” Politico reported.
In past elections, GOP candidates have tended to benefit most from early voting, but this year’s trends appear to portend better for Obama. With some 30 percent of registered voters saying they intend to vote early, combined with Obama’s currently higher enthusiasm numbers, the early voting period is likely to benefit Obama more, McDonald said.
“This is like a mirror image of what we’ve seen in the past,” Paul Gronke of the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College told the BBC. “This cannot be good news for John McCain.”
Many states haven’t released their early voting data broken down by party registration yet, but early turnout numbers thus far and polling data show that Iowa, Colorado and New Mexico may be leaning Obama’s way, according to McDonald.
That also may explain why McCain is pouring his campaign resources into Pennsylvania, a state that typically doesn’t cast many early ballots, he said.
If there is an October surprise — as Curtis Gans of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate warns about in this NewsHour/Video Your Vote interview — after many early votes have been cast, there might not be enough votes McCain could put in his column in key states to amass a win, McDonald said.
“If there’s an October surprise that McCain has, now’s the time to surprise us,” he said. “If he doesn’t do it now, he’ll lose a number of voters to surprise.”
On Friday morning in downtown Washington, D.C., the wait was about 45 minutes to cast an early absentee ballot.
The delay in Evansville, Ind., was even worse, but voters showed their determination, one medical student told Politico.
“There were about 20 people in front of me but remarkably not a single person left the room without voting over the 2 hours it took to get through the line,” the student wrote.
To watch video of some early voters — including actress Kirsten Dunst — casting their ballots or to submit your own video from early voting or Election Day, check out the Online NewsHour’s Video Your Vote collaboration with YouTube.
Click here if you need help finding your polling place.