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Candidates Shift Focus To Early Voting In Swing States


When Election Day comes around in little more than a month from now, millions of Americans will have already voted. In fact, voting is already underway in key swing states like Iowa and North Carolina.

NPR's Scott Detrow is covering the presidential campaign, and he's here in the studio. Hi, Scott.


SIEGEL: How many people are expected to vote before Election Day?

DETROW: A whole lot. According to the Elections Project at the University of Florida, about 50,000 people have already cast their ballots. They've made their minds, they're done with the election. That's about the size of a larger Major League Baseball sold out stadium, to get that into your head.

So 37 states in total have some form of in-person early voting that they offer. Twenty-seven states - there's a lot of overlap there - allow you to cast an absentee ballot without having to give some sort of reason why you want to vote early.

In the end, experts expect more than 3 in 10 voters to have already taken care of this before Election Day.

SIEGEL: Well, you've mentioned swing states. How central is early voting in that small group of states that the campaigns are focusing on so much?

DETROW: There's a wide variation. So let's take North Carolina, where early voting has actually been a high-profile political issue this year. It's been fought out in the courts. Twelve thousand people have already voted in North Carolina. This is by sending in mail and absentee ballots. But North Carolina is going to have more than two weeks of in-person early voting. And that gives campaigns a lot of time to do outreach, get in touch with voters and make sure they've voted.

Pennsylvania, another big state - on the other hand, it's the opposite. They only allow mail-in ballots for people, and you have to give a reason why you can't vote on Election Day. So it's a pretty tough hurdle, and not that many people vote early there.

SIEGEL: But with so many people expected to vote before Election Day, say 3 in 10 - 30 percent - that must change the way candidates are campaigning?

DETROW: Absolutely. You're already seeing it this week. Yesterday, Hillary Clinton was in Iowa, holding an event that was all about early voting.


HILLARY CLINTON: A lot of our campaign volunteers are going to direct people right from this rally to early voting sites. We've got one right down the street. So when you finish here, you can go vote.

DETROW: And that's what the campaign did. They actually steered people, they pointed them in the direction, they kind of led a parade to vote early. We haven't seen that level of organization from the Trump campaign yet.

But all over the state, there is ground game outreach going on. The Iowa Republican Party is very aggressive about getting in touch with voters. You know, campaigns have spent all year scooping up information about voters, figuring out who their likely supporters are.

Now is the time in the states where voting is already happening, where they're getting in touch, saying have you requested an absentee ballot? We'll help you do that. Have you sent it in yet? Did you know there's a nearby voting site? We'll, you know, we'll point you in the right direction.

SIEGEL: Of course, we don't know how people voted - people who voted early - until...

DETROW: That's right.

SIEGEL: ...Everybody else's votes are counted. But will at least the numbers of early voting figures tip us off to some extent of how the election is going?

DETROW: I think you have to apply a lot of caveats here. But there is information that you can look at and try and get a sense of what's going on. There's information about these voters. The key information is what party they are. So in Iowa, for example, far more Democrats have requested ballots so far than Republicans. But that number of Democrats requesting ballots is lower than it was in 2012. Democrats are feeling better about where they are in North Carolina, they're outpacing Republicans so far. That was not the case in 2012. But there's a lot to parse out here, and you have to look at it in a wide lens.

SIEGEL: Right.

DETROW: You know, this is just the first week or so of this.

SIEGEL: And of course, anybody who votes before Election Day is somebody who the parties don't have to call on Election Day...

DETROW: Exactly. You can save a lot of money if you pay close attention.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Scott Detrow. Thanks.

DETROW: No problem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.

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