The November 6 election is still seven weeks away, but early, in-person voting begins in two states on Friday, even as Democrats and Republicans battle in court over controversial plans to limit such voting before Election Day. Idaho and South Dakota are the first states to begin early voting on Friday, although North Carolina has been accepting absentee ballots by mail since September 6. By the end of September, 30 states will have begun either in-person or absentee voting, and eventually all the states will join in. Much of the focus of the early voting period will be on the politically divided states of Ohio and Florida, which could be crucial in deciding the race between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.
The states have also been the venues for court battles in which Democrats have accused Republican-led legislatures of trying to limit early voting periods in order to suppress turnout of working-class and minority voters. Such voters make up large percentages of those casting ballots before Election Day, and they tend to back Democrats. Absentee ballots, popular among military voters, tend to favor Republicans.
The restrictions on early voting are among several election laws passed by Republican-led legislatures since 2010. Other new laws, also challenged by Democrats and voting-rights groups, have been aimed at limiting voter registration and requiring voters to show photo IDs. Republicans say the laws are aimed at preventing voter fraud.