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Early votes and Hurricane Sandy change rhythm of US campaign

With more than one in three votes likely to be cast before the United States election day this year, Republicans are stepping up their efforts to chip away at what has been a Democratic advantage in early voting in vital battlegrounds like Ohio and North Carolina.

Report by NY Times

In Ohio, whose 18 electoral votes are at the centre of the presidential race, more than a million votes have already been cast, highlighting a change in the political rhythm that has led Republicans to embrace the belief long held by Democrats that early voting can be used to increase turnout, not just to shift votes from one day to another.

“We’re doing well right now, so early voting makes a difference,” Mitt Romney told supporters earlier this week in Avon Lake, Ohio, reminding the crowd that early votes count the same as those cast on election day. “It helps us. It’s, you know, a little extra boost when we need it, so thank you for doing it.”

When President Barack Obama flew home to Chicago last week to cast his ballot, he became one of the millions of Americans who have already voted — a flood of early votes that is reshaping how both campaigns operate.

The early vote gave Obama his margin of victory in several important states four years ago, and Democrats are trying to maintain that advantage this year by banking as many early votes as they can.

But Republicans are trying to dampen any early Democratic edge by making a bigger organisational push than they did in the last election. Hurricane Sandy has introduced more uncertainty into the mix: it forced some early voting sites in North Carolina and Virginia to close on Monday, and the storm could curtail early voting hours in other crucial states.

The every-day-is-election-day effects of early voting have transformed modern campaigning, from the Bruce Springsteen concerts the Obama campaign organised this month to mobilise supporters to the polls, to the less glamourous databases that the campaigns keep to track potential early voters as their get-out-the-vote operations have stretched into weeks instead of one frantic day.

Nearly 15 million people have voted so far, according to Michael McDonald, an associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University who keeps tabs on early voting. He said that the pace of early voting this year suggested that 35% or more of all votes could be cast before election day, surpassing the previous record in 2008, when 30% voted early.

While the true measure of their success will not be known until all the ballots are cast and counted, a look at who has voted early so far and where they live does give some meaningful indications of how the early vote is going in some of the swing states where the election will be decided.

Democrats appear to have an advantage with early voting in several of the swing states. Iowa Democrats had cast nearly 59 000 more early votes than Iowa Republicans through the end of last week.

A state law there allows campaigns to petition election officials to open temporary voting locations, which have popped up in Mexican restaurants, evangelical churches and libraries. When Obama visited Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, the day after his second debate, a voting site was set up just across campus, with giant chalk-drawn arrows on sidewalks to guide students to cast their ballots. That day 433 people voted.

In some states, there are indications that Republicans are narrowing their early vote deficits.

In North Carolina, about half of the 1,5 million votes received so far were cast by Democrats, giving them an advantage of nearly 20% above Republicans. It is a wide margin, but the question is whether it will be wide enough: Obama won the early vote in North Carolina by an even wider margin four years ago, McDonald noted.

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