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Early voting surge forces campaigns to switch tactics

As much as 40 percent of voters in battleground states will have already voted by Election Day, forcing presidential campaigns to overhaul traditional get-out-the-vote methods and complicating Donald Trump’s hope that a late surge will put him over the top.

States are increasingly moving to allow early voting, and three states conduct their election entirely by mail, making even the idea of Election Day an anachronism, and pushing campaigns to fight instead during an election season that began weeks before Nov. 8.

As of this weekend, more than 41 million ballots have already been cast in 2016, according to the United States Election Project, a website run by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald. The Pew Research Center says the final number could end up topping 50 million.

“It’s proven very popular among African-Americans, traditionally, but among Hispanic and white voters as well going in early and voting in person,” said Dan Smith, a University of Florida professor who has been closely analyzing early returns in the Sunshine State.

Proponents of early voting say it makes things easier for people who might not otherwise participate, and getting the right people to the polls ahead of Election Day allows campaigns to direct their energy on other turn-out-the-vote efforts.

“The whole goal here is winnow down the list of those drop-off or low-propensity voters that we have, so the closer we get to Election Day the fewer people we have to worry about, and the more capacity, proportionally, we have to contact them and push them out to vote,” said Robby Mook, campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Early indicators appear to give Democrats an edge in Nevada, where early voting ended Friday, while Republicans are outperforming their counterparts in states like Iowa. Percentage-wise, black turnout has been down in Florida even as Hispanic turnout is up, potentially canceling out an edge for either side there.

“Historically, Democrats win early voting, but Republicans turn out in droves on Election Day,” said David Bossie, GOP candidate Donald Trump’s deputy campaign manager.

But if Republicans fall too far behind, it could require a herculean turn-out-the-vote effort on Election Day — a prospect complicated by the fact that the Trump campaign has essentially outsourced all those duties to the Republican National Committee.

In 2012 registered Democrats built a massive 52,000 vote advantage during early voting in Nevada, which accounted for more than 60 percent of all votes cast. On Election Day, the partisan divide was much smaller — meaning the votes banked early provided most of the margin of President Obama’s victory in the state.

Early voting in Nevada this year, which ended Friday, is up some 80,000 ballots, and registered Democrats have again built a 48,000-vote edge over the GOP.

Mr. Trump complained that certain Democratic-friendly early-vote polling places in Clark County were being kept open beyond the deadline Friday. “Folks, it’s a rigged system,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in Reno over the weekend.

Typically, if someone is in line to vote before the polls are scheduled to close, they are allowed by law to cast a ballot.

In some states, early voting started in late September, meaning voters who cast ballots early may have missed out on some of the debates between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton.

And depending on when the state ended early voting, they might have missed either the furor over the FBI renewing the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s private email system or Sunday’s news from Director James Comey that the new evidence didn’t alter the agency’s recommendation not to prosecute her.

“Folks have always raised very legitimate concern about early voting, and that is exactly what we’re seeing now, that events occur late in a campaign that might persuade people to cast their votes differently,” said GOP strategist Charlie Gerow.

There are more than a handful of states that do not offer no-excuse early voting, and several of those are major battlegrounds this year: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire.

Those elections become traditional Election Day turn-out-the-vote efforts, on which the candidates and their operations are focusing heavily.

“In Pennsylvania or New Hampshire, we have to turn everybody out on one day, which makes a much steeper climb for us operationally,” said Mr. Mook, the Clinton campaign manager.

Jeansun Lee, a scientist at the FDA who voted early for Mrs. Clinton last week in D.C., said the early voting period should start immediately after the final presidential debate, which was on Oct. 19 this year.

“Things happen after that in between the election as well, but I think that should be the minimum,” she said. “People should be fully aware of what when on and what was discussed in the debates.”

Ms. Lee said she didn’t want to risk a long line on election day, but that it was still about an hour wait at her northwest D.C. location.

But Saniya Hamady, a retiree in her mid-70s who voted early because she said would be helping a friend who needed assistance on Tuesday, said it bordered on a downright festive experience.

“People are very happy waiting in line. I think they’re excited,” she said. “Every time a new voter, first-time voter, is there, everybody claps the people at the tables let the word get out that this is a first-time voter.”

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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