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Early Voting Begins Ahead of US Presidential Election


Early voting is under way in the United States as people cast ballots in the presidential election between Republican Party nominee John McCain and the Democratic Party standard bearer Barack Obama. Millions of new voters have registered, and a surge in early voting has some election officials predicting as many as 150 million Americans could vote in the November 4 election. VOA's Chris Simkins has more on the early voting and accusations of voter fraud in some states.

Election officials across the country say record numbers of people are lining up to cast early ballots in the U.S. presidential election. With election day approaching, more people this year are voting before November 4.

In key battleground states like Ohio, voters even camped outside election offices to be first in line.

"If we can stand in line for Harry Potter books, and Air Jordans [basketball shoes] and X-Boxes [Video game player]," one Ohio voter noted, "we certainly can stand in line for democracy and casting our votes for this presidential election."

In [the southern U.S. state of] Georgia, election officials are overwhelmed by the large number of early voters, some who wait hours to cast their ballot.

"I just cannot imagine what it is going to be like on November 4," one voter said. "I think people need to think about early voting." said another. "This is going to be the biggest turnout in the history of America and the rest of the world is watching."

Early voting has been on the rise in recent presidential elections. State and county officials predict that 33 percent of all registered voters will cast ballots before election day. That is up from 22 percent in 2004.

Some voters say they're here because of the economy. Sean Jones is in [the central U.S. state of] Indiana.

"With the way things are in the economy I just thought like it was very important to register and vote," he said.

Professor Dennis Johnson at George Washington University says campaigns have adjusted their strategies to sway voters before election day.

"So you have to pitch your message, you have to worry about what is happening in the economy, and you have to worry about all the dynamics of the race," Johnson explained. "It is not just a one day sale like we use to think of just the election day. "

The presidential race between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama has also generated a wave of new voters. Many experts attribute the uptake to excitement over the prospect of election. The dramatic increase has led to allegations of voter fraud including challenges to registration records.

In Ohio, election officials questioned those accused of falsifying or not verifying new registrants.

"There are people out there who will do inexplicable things," a voter registration worker commented.

One organization under investigation is a community group called ACORN [Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now]. In Las Vegas, Nevada police raided the group's headquarters as part of a state investigation into registration fraud.

ACORN volunteer Frank Beaty claims Republicans are behind the raid in a state where the vote is expected to be close.

"They know that most of the new voters which has been the target for ACORN, new voters, people who haven't voted in the past, are going to be the ones that most likely support Mr. Obama," Beaty noted. "So, anything they [Republicans] can do to disqualify any of those people has to be a part of their strategy."

As of July, the U.S. Justice Department said it had 90 ongoing investigations into registration fraud, voter intimidation and ineligible voting.

Political expert Curtis Gans at American University says, in the past, both parties have been accused of trying to remove people from voter lists, especially in close contests.

"Increasingly as we are a polarized country this has become more of a bi-annual [every two years] event in which each side [Republicans and Democrats] does things that they probably should not do for the integrity of the process but they do it for their partisan advantage," Gans said.

Election officials are hoping the steady stream of people casting ballots now will take some of the pressure off on election day when many expect a historically high turnout.

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