Millions of Americans have already cast ballots in the U.S. Presidential election in some 32 states which have expanded traditional absentee rules to allow anyone to go to a polling place and vote early. Key pollsters speculate nearly a quarter of all voters might cast ballots before November 4, which would be a record. Surveys indicate many of those voting early are African Americans, many who say they are excited by the prospect of electing Senator Barack Obama the first African American president. Chris Simkins has more on the story.
Historic turnout - largest minority voting
Large numbers of African Americans are turning up at the polls in states where early voting is underway. Political experts say the trend is an indication of what could be a historic turnout among the nation's largest minority voting group.
A recent study [by The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies] indicates as many as 94 percent of black voters prefer Senator Barack Obama, the Democrat, over his Republican rival, Senator John McCain. Analysts say it's a huge advantage for Obama who is pushing his supporters to cast ballots.
"You know who you are going to vote for," Senator Obama said. "Go to the polls, get that mail in ballot."
In the highly contested midwestern state of Ohio, community organizer Tina Lawrence says she's never seen so much excitement among black voters. "The fact that we've had the first serious African American candidate has added to the excitement and the interest," Lawrence said. "I think, especially from our community."
Election officials in states such as Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina, are reporting the heaviest early voting. In some locations, people stand in line for hours forcing officials to extend voting hours. In these communities, thousands of African Americans are casting ballots and taking part in efforts to entice voters to the polls.
In North Carolina, state officials say 58 percent of early voters have been registered Democrats compared with 25 percent registered Republicans. In Louisiana, the official numbers show 36 percent of those who have already voted are black.
"African Americans are an important voting block in several key states
that will determine the outcome of the election," . David Bositis said. He is a Researcher with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington. "States such as
Missouri, Ohio and Florida," he explained.
Will newly registered voters vote?
While the African American voting bloc has increased before this election, it remains unclear whether newly registered voters will actually vote on election day.
Carroll Doherty, a pollster with the Pew Research Center in Washington, says if they do, it could help Obama win victories in states he needs to win the election. "Based on the higher levels of engagement (among blacks), that may go up a point or two, which doesn't seem impressive, but in a state like Ohio or Virginia," Doherty said. "Which are closely contested, a point or two could make all the difference."
Votes like Paula Stewart say a strong African American turnout will be more important than ever, just to counteract the votes Obama may lose from white voters, some of whom say they might not vote for Obama because he is black. "I think that's just a part of the reality of the United States," Stewart said. "It is, there will be people who vote against their own vested interest just because he's an African-American. And that's sad really."
But some voters like Toni Gaines believe Obama has been able to transcend any racial divide.
"His support base is much broader than people think," Gaines said. "And I think that a lot of people that still focus on race will get to the point where they'll realize that we want the best man for the job."
Political observers predict if African American turnout at the polls reaches record levels Obama's candidacy could be further boosted, particularly if he reaches the record share of the black vote last attained 44 years ago when a Democrat won in a landslide.