Why the Importance of Early Voting Is Here to Stay

The gradual shift toward early voting has big political implications

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The U.S. Elections Project predicts that 46 million Americans voted early this year, accounting for more than a third of all ballots cast. If that estimate holds true, it will mean even more early votes than in 2008, when an unprecedented 39.7 million people cast ballots before Election Day. Maryland, Louisiana, Iowa, Nevada, Montana and North Carolina have already exceeded their 2008 totals. And this shift toward early voting has big political implications.

Early voting was crucial for Barack Obama in 2008, when he won pre-election voters 58% to 40%, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken just before the election. Obama carried Colorado, Florida, Iowa and North Carolina that year, despite the fact that John McCain won more votes in those states on Election Day.

Four years later, Mitt Romney has narrowed Obama’s early-voting lead, but the process still favors Democrats. That’s why the President has made a public effort to turn out early voters, including becoming the first sitting President to vote early last Thursday. Of the five battleground states where officials ask for party identification, Democrats have turned out early in higher numbers in four: Nevada, Iowa, North Carolina and Florida. Republicans lead in Colorado.

(PHOTOS: America Votes: Election 2012)

The importance of early voting is most evident in crucial Ohio, a state where more than 1.6 million have already voted. According to a recent CNN/ORC poll, Obama’s early-vote advantage in Ohio is 63 to 35, while Romney has a 55-to-42 advantage among those who plan to vote on Election Day. Those margins alone could decide the next President.

It’s unlikely that early voting will decline following this election. According to the U.S. Elections Project, the upward trend started in 1992, when only 7% of all votes were cast early, and shows no signs of abating.