Early voting is about to start in a big way across the country amid court challenges that could have a major impact on the presidential race.
North Carolina has been accepting absentee ballots by mail since September 6. Idaho and South Dakota allow early voting starting today. By the end of September, 30 states will have begun early voting either in person or by absentee ballot, according to an analysis by Reuters. All this marks an acceleration of the voting process that has caused the presidential campaigns to alter their strategies and triggered concern that some voters may be rushing to judgment.
Many voters will be casting their ballots before any of the debates between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney; before the full weight of the candidates' arguments comes to bear; before a full evaluation can be made of the candidates' ability to perform under pressure, and before either candidate has had a chance to make his final summation to the country of why he would be the best president.
Election Day is November 6, but that date is increasing irrelevant to Americans whose states allow them to vote early and who find this option the best one available to them.
In 2008, early voting accounted for 30 percent of all votes cast, a record. In Florida, more than half of the voters were cast before Election Day, including 54 percent of the votes of African Americans, according to Reuters. This was twice the early voting rate of white voters.
Legal battles are shaping up in Florida and Ohio, perhaps the two most important battleground states in the November election. Republican-controlled legislatures in both states have moved to limit early voting because GOP leaders say it may lead to voter fraud. But Democrats say the limits amount to attempts to suppress the turnout of minority and working-class citizens.
In terms of political strategy, both the Democrats and the Republicans have adjusted to the new realities. Each side realizes that many Americans will have made up their minds and actually cast their ballots by mid-October, so any last-minute messaging would be wasted on them. This has led to the speeding up of the presidential campaign, with millions of dollars in advertising, much of it negative, designed to appeal to Americans who are likely to vote well before Election Day. Overall, early voting has led to early spending and early attacking.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook or Twitter.