Early Voting Could be the Key

Sometimes I get frustrated with the media. It seems that the most important aspect of the presidential campaign is reporting the "horse race" aspect of it.

Sometimes I get frustrated with the media. It seems that the most important aspect of the presidential campaign is reporting the "horse race" aspect of it. The focus of the majority of news stories is around national polls (which are irrelevant right now as the only polls that matter are in a few target states) or who made the latest gaffe or exaggeration.

But credit some media outlets for a spate of stories recently that discussed early voting in key states that will decide the Electoral College. To me, a grassroots campaign guy, this is a huge story that has largely been ignored.

In critical states like Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, and Virginia, early voting has begun and could represent 30-50% of the vote in each state before Election Day (early voting in Florida begins October 20th). Think about that for a second...half of the voters in key states will have already voted before November 4.

For those unfamiliar with how early voting works, a brief synopsis: Early voting is not absentee voting - where the voter must apply for an excused absence on Election Day. Absentee voters must go through a tedious two to three step process in order to caste their vote. Anyone who's ever voted absentee can agree it's tedious.

Early voting, on the other hand, is as easy as voting on Election Day. The voter just walks up to the designated voting location and casts their ballot. It's that easy and much more convenient - which is why (it is projected) up to 50% of some key target state voters will cast their ballot before November 4th.

So how are the McCain and Obama campaigns organizing their early voting grassroots efforts?

It seems both campaigns are following a similar strategy that we utilized during the 2004 Bush reelection campaign. In that election our big strategy was to expand the turnout universe (turnout universe is defined as the identified supporters of a candidate that a campaign plans to turn out regardless of their reliability to vote) from the 2000 election.

Our strategy for early voting, was to turn out reliable voters (defined as voters who vote in primaries and general elections) early and less reliable voters (defined as occasional voters) on Election Day.

With reliable voters, we knew they supported our candidate and it was a guaranteed vote in the ballot box. I always worry that if you wait until Election Day, there is always a chance a voter may not vote - no matter how reliable (inclement weather, too busy at work, etc.). So I wanted to lock in those reliable voters early and spend the remaining days of the campaign convincing unreliable voters to vote.

Why was this a different strategy from past turnout efforts? For one, early voting is relatively new in elections. Secondly, we didn't want to waste our time on Election Day turning out voters who were already going to vote for us.

The 2004 end result proved our strategy was sound. We won key battleground states that were in doubt four years earlier and increased our overall turnout nationwide. It's further reason why reporters should be focusing more on the nuts and bolts of early voting.

My frustration with the media is they spent one day discussing this critical voting process. I'm sure they probably feel like they reported on it and now can move onto other things - like the latest gaffe by a candidate - and that's a shame.

Early voting results are being tabulated as I write this and it could hold the key to winning or losing for the candidates. Keep a close eye on it even if reporters don't.

Phillip Stutts currently serves as the president of Phillip Stutts & Company, LLC, a political and corporate consulting firm. He was the National 72 Hour/Get Out the Vote Director for the RNC and President Bush's reelection in 2004.