Is Early Voting All It's Cracked Up to Be?

Even before Mitt Romney and President Obama square off in their first television debate, some voters in Iowa have already casted their ballot through early voting. But the issue many voters and political analysts have asked for several years is who exactly benefits from early voting?

Several states that have had early voting laws for many years say that when results are analyzed against the actual Election Day results, most of the time early voting totals mirror the actual day of voting.

"I would say that most of the time early voting is about the same as Election Day," said Lou Perry, an election official in Mississippi. "Of course some people who win on Election Day are surprised when they lose by a few votes after early voting numbers are released so you can't tell, but all in all, it's about even."

Laws allowing early voting vary by state, but Iowa kicks off the election season last week by being the first to allow voting. However, the results are never released until after the polls close on Nov. 6 when half of all voters choose to cast their ballot.

Obama campaign volunteers and staffers have been working for months in Iowa to encourage early voting. Democrats had requested 109,709 ballots as of last Monday while Republicans had requested 20,458.

"Many people on the Obama campaign staff never left after '07," Michael Hunt, communications director of the state's Democratic Party, told Real Clear Politics. "So we've been extremely fortunate to have an institutional memory in Iowa that goes back to the days when he was Sen. Obama."

Four years ago in Iowa early voting accounted for 36 percent of the ballots cast for president. Based on demand for absentee ballots this year, that number is expected to increase for 2012. Absentee or early voting also frees up campaign resources and personal so they can actually focus on those you have not already cast a ballot.

Tennessee has a 15 day early voting period that ends five days before the actual Election Day. Sophisticated campaigns can then analyze early voting data, figure out who voted and then only target those who have not yet cast their vote.

Early voting also attracts the more hard-core voters.

"If you look at who is early-voting right now, absentee ballots, 80%, almost 90%, are 'four of four' voters, meaning they voted in the last four elections," veteran Iowa GOP strategist Steve Grubbs told CNN.

"So it's a difference of strategy. You put your money into the last three weeks or you put your money into early voting. The Republican Party will put a little more into the last three weeks, and the Democrats a little more into the first initial blast of early voting."

But not everyone agrees that early voting is advantageous.

In an article in Bloomberg, editorial board member Francis Wilkinson cited Reed College political science professor Paul Gronke on his reasoning for my early voting is not the greatest thing since sliced bread.

"It's true that early voting has started in many states, and will start in more states in the upcoming weeks," said Gronke. "And it's also true that both campaigns will be mobilizing those early votes as a way to 'bank' voters. But this doesn't mean that half the country is going to tune out from the presidential contest or miss the debates."

Wilkinson also made a case that early voters were "closed-minded" and did not want to effectively evaluate the candidates on how they present all of their ideas.

"The willingness to vote early, before all the innings are played, is an affront to democratic discourse. It signals that minds are closed to new information. That may be an accurate reflection of American politics – not only in our especially polarized era but in previous ones as well," wrote Wilkinson.

"Partisanship is an essential feature of our politics. But it's not a vision we should endorse and institutionalize with early voting. Democracy, like a Hollywood movie, requires a certain suspension of disbelief. We know in reality that not every American's vote is equal (if you have any doubt, ask Sheldon Adelson). Yet we behave as if that's the case."

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