Today is Election Day. And so is tomorrow. And the day after that. By the end of September, voters in 30 states will start casting early or absentee ballots in the presidential race — a fact that both poses challenges for the campaigns seeking to make their final pitches as well as raises the stakes between now and Nov. 6. Absentee ballots have been mailed out in key swing states like North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin and New Hampshire. In South Dakota and Idaho — firmly red states — early voting began Friday, and in-person early voting in the crucial swing state of Iowa begins this Thursday. “It’s no longer Election Day; it’s election two months,” said Pete Snyder, the Republican National Committee Victory chairman in Virginia.
Four years ago, just under 40 million people — about 30 percent of the total electorate that year — voted early, and experts expect that number to spike even higher in 2012. Neither the Obama nor the Romney campaigns are taking any chances. Both are deploying aggressive turnout operations to target early voters and realize that they could make the difference in the tight race. Barack Obama won the early vote in 2008 by encouraging less traditional voters like the young and minority groups to turn out early, and is doing so again. Mitt Romney’s camp says it isn’t focused on any specific demographic groups in its early voting efforts.
Furthermore, the slew of voters casting their ballots this far out from Election Day significantly changes the calculation for campaigns and outside groups making decisions about where to invest their ad dollars. If a campaign or outside group is stockpiling its campaign cash for the final weeks and a third of voters have already voted, those ads won’t make a bit of difference. And when a good chunk of voters have already cast their ballots before they air, it’s possible that debates won’t have a widespread impact on the electorate.