Early voters turning out in record numbers

October 27, 2008 6:33:34 PM PDT
This election is likely to see the most extensive boom in early voting in history; not just in California, but nationwide.

In California, early voting begins 29 days before an election. This year, more people than ever before are taking advantage of early voting, either by coming to polling places like San Francisco City Hall, which has seen a 29 percent increase in early voting since 2004, or by mail.

"I do think from what we're seeing we'll have more people vote in this election than any time in the city's history," San Francisco's election director John Arntz said.

One researcher with the Early Voting Information Center predicts nearly one-third of the nation's electorate will vote early this year.

"There are a lot of registrars banking on about half their voters voting by mail," Steven Weir said. Weir is the Contra Costa County Registrar of Voters and past president of the state association of county clerks.

In Contra Costa County, early voting is about 40 percent ahead of where it was in 2004, Weir said.

This past weekend, Weir experienced an amazing example of early voting enthusiasm. Although the registrar's office was closed Sunday, people showed up wanting to vote. There was staff in the office preparing for the election, so they opened the office and allowed the people to cast their ballots.

"If they came here to vote, we want to accommodate them," Weir said.

Registrars like early voting because it decreases the chances of Election Day problems; candidates like it because they get votes locked up early; but early voting may be problematic for democracy, University of California, Berkeley political scientist Henry Brady said.

"If people vote early, they may not have all of the information," Brady said. "They may not have heard everything the candidates have to say, or the people who are supporting propositions have to say. I think there's dangers with fraud with early voting, especially absentee voting."

For registered voters who do not want to vote in person, the last day to request a vote-by-mail ballot is Tuesday, Oct. 28.


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