Republicans are trying to boost their early-voting efforts
after lagging behind Democrats in the past two election cycles, spending
unprecedented sums at the state level and launching a national campaign to get
GOP voters to cast ballots before Election Day. With early voting beginning
Friday in three states, the GOP's efforts have the potential to affect the
outcome of close races. Campaigns that bank early votes can then spend their
resources chasing supporters with less reliable voting histories, who may need
a push to the polls.
Thirty-five states allow some voting before Election Day,
with Oregon and Washington conducting their elections entirely by mail starting
in early October.
An immediate focus of Republicans' campaign is Iowa, where
early voting begins next Thursday. The state party has gone from investing
nothing in its 2010 early-voting push to more than $1 million this year, Iowa
GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said.
At the same time, the Republican National Committee on
Friday is launching an effort to get GOP voters to commit to casting ballots
early, with a campaign that mimics the social-media-driven "ice bucket
challenge" that raised money for disease research.
Iowa, where GOP state Sen. Joni Ernst and Democratic Rep.
Bruce Braley are competing in one of the closest Senate races in the country,
illustrates the challenge Republicans face and how far behind Democrats they
remain. Already, Iowa Republicans are
behind Democrats. According to data from the secretary of state, Iowa Democrats
this year have requested nearly twice as many early-voting absentee ballots as
have Republicans—more than 50,100 ballots were requested by Democrats and
27,400 by Republicans as of Wednesday, the latest data available.
Democrats say pushing early voting to supporters is no
longer a novel approach. Iowa Democratic Party spokeswoman Christina Freundlich
called it "textbook grass-roots work." The DNC believes its
early-voter advantage from 2012 will carry over as people repeat past
Six states will have more early-voting days in 2014 than
they did in 2012. Eight states will have fewer early-voting days in 2014 than
in 2012, with the most drastic decrease in Maine, which will go from 46 days of
early voting to 16.
Before 2008, early voters tended to be more educated, older,
wealthier and more partisan than the general public, said Paul Gronke, the
founder of the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College. But Mr. Obama's
first presidential campaign that year changed the calculus for
Democrats—mobilizing African-American church groups and others to go to the
polls as soon as possible.
To try to change Republicans' voting culture, the RNC on
Friday will begin redirecting people who visit GOP.com to a website that will
allow them to request an absentee ballot or find their early-voting location.
The party will gather these voters' information and use it to press them to vote
before Election Day. While Democrats are universally pushing their voters to
cast ballots early, the GOP push varies by state.
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