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Record Number of Voters Registered for 2004 US Election

State and local officials across the United States report record numbers of Americans have registered to vote in next month's elections. Officials predict that relaxed rules will also result in a record number of votes by people who choose not to go to the polls on Election Day.

They're called absentee voters, people who on Election Day will be out of town, out of the country, in the military, or like this 106-year-old woman in Illinois, people too old or infirm to get to a polling place. So they arrange to vote early or by mail. Election commissioner Michael Mauro of Polk County, Iowa, says both major political parties use absentee voting to lock in part of their voter base.

"There's a concentrated effort out there to get people to participate early so they have those votes in the bank on Election Day," says Mr. Mauro.

Four years ago, absentee votes amounted to 14 percent of the total. This year, according to a survey by the Pew Center for People and the Press, the number could total 19 or 20 percent. A key factor is the easing of absentee voting requirements. A total of 27 states now allow voting as long as two months before Election Day, either in person or by mail.

In the state of Oregon this year, nobody will be voting in person. The election will be conducted entirely by mail. Critics say early voters cannot take into account late-breaking campaign events, such as televised debates. Proponents argue that absentee voting provides a convenience that results in a higher turnout.