Weekend voting has been an effective tool for Democrats. Black churches in 2008 promoted "take your souls to the polls" programs, helping deliver churchgoers from Sunday services to polling places.
But whether this election can match or exceed the 2008 early vote is an open question.
"We're not dealing with a candidate who's running for the first time; we're not dealing with the establishment of an historic change, and we have an economic downturn," observed Kareem Crayton, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina who specializes in voting rights.
Paul Gronke, director of the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College in Portland, Ore., said that without the level of enthusiasm and excitement that existed in 2008 the early voting patterns might build up more slowly. He also noted, however, that Romney, unlike McCain, has embraced some of the same social media techniques that Obama used in 2008 to motivate his early voters.
"For that alone, Obama has a bigger challenge," he said.
From Anchorage to Miami, state-specific mailers are ready to go to each candidate's supporters, informing them when voting offices are open or how to request early ballots. Volunteers are ready to call supporters — culled from email lists, voter files and even magazine subscriptions — to remind them to get their votes counted.
Ohio is "going to be close, but we have 35 days to have our supporters vote early," said Aaron Pickrell, Obama's senior adviser in the state.
Obama has been asking crowds to visit a website run by his campaign, gottavote.com, to get early-voting information.
All of this means that today's presidential campaign looks much different from those of old, when massive get-out-the-vote operations were confined mostly to the final weekend and Monday before the election. Now, voter turnout is becoming a two-month slog. That is why the airwaves are already clogged with television ads, mailboxes are cluttered with political mailings and people are picking sides even before the first presidential debates take place.
"The old adage in Republican politics was a 72-hour campaign," said Scott Jennings, Romney's top aide in Ohio. "But really, that's a misnomer these days. We are going to be treating every day like Election Day, especially when the early voting starts."
Elliott reported from Columbus, Ohio.
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