Record numbers of Americans have already cast their ballots in early voting - more than 28 million people in 34 of the 50 states. Election statistics and a new opinion survey show that registered Democrats are turning out to vote early in far greater numbers than Republicans. In several states, massive early turnout has forced voters to wait for hours in long lines. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine looks at the wave of early voting in this historic presidential election.
Michael McDonald is an elections expert at George Mason University in Virginia. He says data from state and county officials indicate that more Americans have participated in early voting this year than in any U.S. election.
"We have statistics that we can point to right now that suggest that 28.8 million people have so far voted in this election," he said. "We are expecting 40 million people when all the numbers are compiled. And that will be about 30 percent of the 136 million people that we are expecting to vote."
McDonald says that if 136 million people go to the polls, that would mean a turnout of 64 percent of the electorate.
"We may quite literally see turnout of a magnitude that we have not seen in a century of American politics," he said.
As of Monday, more registered Democrats than Republicans have cast ballots in the 26 early voting states where election statistics are available.
Party affiliation does not necessarily predict which candidate a voter will choose. But analysts note that trends seem to favor Democratic candidate Barack Obama in several states. They say this is significant because early voting traditionally has favored Republicans.
A new Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll finds that nearly 30 percent of voters say they have already cast their ballots. Nearly 60 percent of these voters say they voted for Obama, 40 percent say they cast their ballots for McCain.
According to George Mason University's Michael McDonald, massive turnout at early voting offices has put a strain on the system.
"What's happening here is that local election officials only have a limited number of polling places available for early voting in person," he said. "And those polling places seem to be completely overwhelmed. As we look from state to state where they do have these polling places, in many places they have had to extend hours. They have had to open up additional polling places to accommodate the demand for early voting."
Some voters have had to wait as long as 10 hours to cast their ballots, leaving some analysts to worry about the lines voters might face on Election Day. Michael McDonald says that if election officials in states that do not offer early voting are overwhelmed by high turnout, it could increase the momentum for a national early voting law. Voters in the state of Maryland will decide on Tuesday whether that state should offer early voting in future elections.