Election officials in several closely-contested states say Democrats are turning out to vote early in greater numbers than Republicans. With 34 states allowing voters to go to the polls in person before election day, experts estimate that up to 30 percent of U.S. voters are likely to cast their votes before November 4. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at what early voting trends might mean for the outcome of the election.
Across the country, Americans are already streaming to election offices to cast their ballots for the next president. Officials in early voting states are reporting record turnouts. State and county figures show that Democrats are voting early in greater numbers in Ohio, North Carolina, Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico.
In Georgia, African Americans are voting in greater numbers than they did in 2004.
Michael McDonald is an elections expert at George Mason University in Virginia who tracks early voting patterns. He says this year's early voting is trending very different from past elections.
"We are seeing an early voter electorate that tends to tip a little bit towards the Democrats and also towards African Americans," McDonald said. "So right now, this looks to be an early vote that will favor Obama. And what is significant about this is that usually the early vote favors the Republicans. So to see the Democrats in a better position in early voting at this stage in the game is a bit unusual."
Paul Gronke of the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College in Oregon says the trends toward Democrats are unprecedented in some places.
"This year things are very different," Gronke said. "It is really a mirror image this year. African Americans in Georgia are voting at an almost 10 percent higher rate than they have in previous elections. Democrats in North Carolina are more than double the rate that they were just four years ago. In Franklin County, Ohio, which is where Ohio State [University] is, of course, the numbers are shocking. Nine-thousand Democrats have voted, 9,000 independents have voted and 900 Republicans have voted. Those numbers are just shocking."
Some election experts, including McDonald and Gronke, say that the record turnout for early voting could indicate that record numbers of American voters will likely turn out on November 4.
"A turnout that we have not seen of this level since 1908 in American elections, if we top a 64 percent turnout rate in 1960, which it looks like we will do," McDonald said. "We will have to go all the way back to 1908 to see the next highest turnout level of 66 percent."
American Enterprise Institute political analyst John Fortier says there is clearly a Democratic advantage in early voting, but he warns everyone not to jump to conclusions.
"I think that it is due to the organization of the Obama campaign, and may be an indication of enthusiasm on the Democratic side," Fortier said. "I would be a bit cautious to note that if you turn out all your voters early and you do not have any left on election day, it still ends up being the same amount."
Officials report that early voting in Colorado is about even between Republicans and Democrats. In Florida, Republicans have an edge among absentee voters, but Democrats are lining up in larger numbers in person at early voting polling places. No votes will be counted until November 4.