In Iowa, Campaigns Prepare For Early Voting For most of the country, Election Day is Nov. 4. States such as Iowa, however, start absentee voting as early as September. The McCain and Obama campaigns have had to reconfigure their strategies for these states.
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In Iowa, Campaigns Prepare For Early Voting

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In Iowa, Campaigns Prepare For Early Voting

In Iowa, Campaigns Prepare For Early Voting

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News. The calendar says election day is November 4th. That's mostly true, but not entirely in states that hold early voting, where people can cast their ballots by mail or vote early in person. NPR's Audie Cornish was out with people voting today in Des Moines.

AUDIE CORNISH: 36 states have some sort of early voting option, and each has a different approach. Some let voters mail in excuse-free absentee ballots. Others open up special polling places for walk-in votes. Iowa lets you walk your absentee ballot into a special polling place. Today, Jane Cornell is one of the first through the downtown Des Moines elections office.

JANE CORNELL: I remember when we were voting for John F. Kennedy such long lines that some people didn't even vote. And I think this is very wise to do for those people who work.

CORNISH: Cornell says last winter's crowded caucuses were a reminder that she wanted to avoid election lines again. And despite the swirling financial news and upcoming debates, she insists she isn't worried about possibly regretting her choice later.

CORNELL: No, I'm walking in with a firm mind.

CORNISH: While Carl Wertzberger sails by the same office on the way to work and tend to wait til November.

CARL WERTZBERGER: I did caucus, so for me, I just want to wait to the voting day just to take part in the, you know, all the festivities, as opposed to early voting. So I guess the answer to your question, yeah, I do want to wait just to make it more memorable.

CORNISH: Wertzberger is leaning towards John McCain but says he needs the next few weeks to make up his mind. And that means more work for the campaigns, who'd like to narrow their target. Chelsea Kammerer, an Obama campaign state director, says it can be challenging keeping up what is effectively election game day energy for 40 days straight.

CHELSEA KAMMERER: And there's a lot of different logistical things. There's different precincts that are going to be voting at satellite voting locations on specific days. You have to remind people of phone calls. You have to match up the door hangers, as you see here in our office that we just got in. You have to make sure that people know that they have this opportunity to vote. You have to tell them the hours. From an organizational standpoint, it is a lot of work, but we think the payoff is well worth it.

CORNISH: The Obama campaign has emphasized the registration of new voters who don't fit the mostly white, mostly older, mostly wealthier profile of the average early voter. That's why Kammerer is sitting in a room with 250,000 early Vote for Change buttons, stickers, and door hangers stacked in boxes in every corner. And the campaign has worked with local supporters to petition for the opening of some 75 new satellite voting stations throughout the state. On this issue, Republicans in Iowa aren't as aggressive.

Unidentified Woman: Hi, is Danny there, please? Hi, this is Melissa, and I'm a volunteer calling on behalf of the Republican Party of Iowa. Do you have a couple seconds to answer a couple quick questions?

CORNISH: In the days before early voting started, the GOP campaign phone bank in the suburbs of Des Moines was doing business as usual. This is not to say that Republican early vote mass mailings aren't on the way, but it's just not the centerpiece of their Get Out The Vote strategy.

GENTRY COLLINS: I think that we have been spending most of our time preparing for an election day turnout effort, as we have in the past in Iowa, that I think has been successful in recent years, particularly in '04.

CORNISH: Gentry Collins is the Midwest chair for the McCain-Palin campaign. He says Republicans already had very high turnout rates on election day.

COLLINS: So what I'm going to look to do is I'm going to work on low-propensity voters, people who in past years haven't gone out to vote, and I'm going to try to get those people in the process, try to get them out to vote for the first time with our early-voting program.

CORNISH: But with less than 150,000 requests overall, state elections officials say so far, the numbers of those looking to vote early appears to be down. And that could mean that long lines on election day, at least in Iowa, may be unavoidable. Audie Cornish, NPR News, Des Moines.

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