Washington Post - August 26, 2004
Voters may have their say before election day
By Jo Becker
In Iowa, voters will begin casting ballots a week before the first scheduled debate between President Bush and his Democratic rival, Sen. John F. Kerry. In Arizona, campaign officials for both candidates estimate that half the state's votes will be cast before Election Day. And there will not be any polls open Nov. 2 in Oregon, because the only way to vote in that state is by mail.
These battleground states are part of a national trend that offers voters an alternative to standing in lines at the polls. Thirty states allow residents to cast their vote early, either in person or by mail, and do not require voters to provide a reason. An additional 10 states, including Maryland and Virginia, have policies that allow voters to cast absentee ballots for a variety of reasons, such as a long commute.
The number of states that offer no-excuse early voting has nearly tripled in the past eight years, fueled in part by the demand for election changes that followed the deadlocked 2000 presidential race. Early voting is transforming the way campaigns do business, and because this presidential race is so closely contested, it could have a significant impact on the outcome.
In some battleground states, voting will commence nearly six weeks before Election Day. For the Bush and Kerry campaigns, that means an earlier start to television, radio and mail advertising, adding to the campaign's overall cost.
Supporters tout early voting as a way to reverse declining voter turnout. In 2000, only about a third of those registered to vote cast ballots, with more than 50 million opting not to exercise their constitutional right.
Many states allow the campaigns to track who has requested mail-in ballots or voted early in person. By cross-referencing that list against other available information, such as party registration, phone canvassing results or even personal preferences such as magazine subscriptions, the two campaigns can target the voters most likely to support them. …