One of the great unknowns in this year's U.S. presidential race is what
effect the option of early voting may have.
At least 27 of the 50 states allow residents to cast their votes ahead
of election day without giving a reason. Other states allow so-called
"absentee ballots" for voters who cannot make it to a polling station on
This year, at least 20 percent of voters are expected to use the early
voting option, either by mail or at special pre-election polling booths.
The development may help explain why President Bush and his Democratic
challenger John Kerry have campaigned so heavily in the midwest. Four
states in that region - Michigan, Missouri, Iowa and Ohio - begin voting
later this month, five weeks or more ahead of the official election day.
Early voting has its critics, who say it deprives voters of
late-breaking information about the candidates.
Supporters counter that early voting can increase voter turnout.
Both the Bush and Kerry campaigns have encouraged the practice. The
campaigns see early voting as a way to lock in hundreds of thousands of
votes before election day, putting them that much closer to winning the