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Early voting may have helped Obama

In key Southern and Western states, Dems have cast many more ballots than GOP.

Jeana Jones votes early while holding her 5-month-old son Zuryan Sosa at the San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters office in Stockton, Calif., on Monday.

AP photo

DENVER — The drumbeat to vote early is paying dividends for Barack Obama, especially in key battleground states in the South and West where Democrats have cast many more ballots than Republicans — and even in states where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats.

About a third of the American electorate was expected to vote before Election Day, largely to avoid long lines at the polls.

“It was so easy. I filled in my ballot with my wife over dinner and then dropped it off on the way to work,” said Tony Amadeo, 27, one of almost 1.5 million people who cast early ballots in Colorado, where for the first time a majority of votes in a presidential race will be cast in advance.

More than 29 million people in 30 states have already voted, according to partial state and county data provided to The Associated Press, and that number was projected to rise to 44 million out of 137 million total votes nationally, according to estimates by Edison Media Research and George Mason University political scientist Michael McDonald.

That would be an early vote of 32 percent of this year’s electorate, up from 22 percent in 2004 and 15 percent in 2000.

So far, Democrats have submitted 1 million more ballots than Republicans, though registration does not always indicate who voters choose for president.

Record early voting by Democrats in Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, Nevada and Colorado suggests the Obama campaign has rolled up an early advantage over John McCain.

“This is a huge change. Early voters tend to be slightly whiter, slightly older, slightly more educated and slightly more Republican, so what we’re seeing, it’s unprecedented,” said James Hicks, research director at the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College in Oregon.

The campaigns heavily promoted early voting, reasoning that if they got their base supporters in the bag before Election Day, they could then concentrate on attracting undecided voters.

On the eve of the election, Democrats had compiled early leads in several states:

— In Colorado, a toss-up state that chose President Bush twice, Democrats had cast 27,500 more ballots than Republicans by Monday. Nearly 1.6 million out of 3.2 million Colorado voters cast early ballots.

Colorado Democrats are now pressing supporters to use Election Day to lobby undecided voters. “I’m gonna be phone-banking, canvassing, working to get people out,” said Kim Cooke of Denver, who volunteers for a progressive group that supports Obama. She dropped off her mail-in ballot Friday after work.

— In Florida, 4.2 million people have already voted, up more than 1 million from four years ago. Democrats cast 1.9 million ballots compared with 1.6 million among Republicans. Waits for early voting topped five hours in some places, and Gov. Charlie Crist signed an executive order extending early voting hours to accommodate the masses.

— In North Carolina, Democrats cast nearly twice as many early ballots as Republicans, 1.4 million ballots to 780,000. As of Sunday, more than 40 percent of registered voters had already cast ballots, leading elections officials to reduce expectations of Election Day turnout.

Obama, who campaigned in Charlotte on Monday, had reason to expect early voting was breaking his way. Blacks made up 28 percent of that state’s early vote, though they are 21 percent of the population and accounted for just 19 percent of North Carolina’s overall 2004 vote.

— In Iowa, Democratic early ballots outnumbered Republican ballots, 226,000 to 139,000.

— In Nevada, nearly 90,000 more Democrats than Republicans voted early in the state’s two urban counties, home to 85 percent of the state’s voters.

— In New Mexico, nearly 53 percent of early votes have been cast by registered Democrats, compared with 33 percent by registered Republicans.

— In Georgia, early voting has tripled since 2004. The state doesn’t track early voters by party registration, but it does track them by race.

About 29 percent of the state’s electorate is black, but 35 percent of early voters are black. Almost one-fifth of the early voters have come from two traditionally Democratic metro Atlanta counties.

In Orange County, Calif., election officials set up a drive-through voting center. It was an experiment in convenience that drew hundreds.

At a weekend rally in Pueblo, Colo., Obama urged thousands of Democrats who already voted to spend Election Day encouraging others to vote.

The plea worked for Mark Maestas of Pueblo, a deputy sheriff and hay farmer who voted early and planned to spend today working the phones at a volunteer center and delivering last-minute yard signs.

Early voting is becoming more common even in states that don’t formally allow it. Those states say absentee requests set records this year. By Friday, South Carolina officials had already broken a 2004 record for absentee voting.

“People are not taking chances. They want to make sure they get to vote,” said Mary Fitzgerald of North Charleston, S.C., who helped her 93-year-old mother complete her absentee ballot last week. About an hour after voting, Dora Fitzgerald died.

“She said she wanted to stick around long enough to vote for Obama,” Mary Fitzgerald said.

News reports of the deathbed balloting have raised questions in South Carolina about whether an extended voting period could allow some dead people to vote. South Carolina’s attorney general has indicated Fitzgerald’s vote might be reviewed.

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