Early Voting and the 2008 Presidential Primaries

It’s a standard line for most political commentators: the 2008 presidential election season has already begun. Some candidates have taken their names off of the list of contenders, while others have formed exploratory committees.

At electionupdates, we’ve also begun to think about the 2008 election as well, and how changes in election machinery and election administration may alter the dynamics of the 2008 contest.

Here’s our first 2008 headline: Earlyvoting holds the possibility of fundamentally altering the 2008 primary calendar.

The presidential primary calendar traditionally stars with the Iowa caucuses, followed a week later by New Hampshire. But what voters in other states who may begin casting their ballots early? California, for instance, is currently scheduled to hold its primary in early March (with proposals under consideration to move it even earlier).

When does the California primary really begin? Absentee ballots arrive as early as a month prior to the date of the election. If a similarly long window is allowed in 2008, then 10% or more of the primary ballots will be cast before the New Hampshire primary!

And if California moves its primary to February, as is being proposed, the first ballots could be case in mid January.

The impact on campaign strategy is obvious: you have to pay attention to the early voting calendar as well as the election day calendar. Only well-funded campaigns are going to be able to maintain a multi-state mobilization effort that early in the season. And the likelihood of a dark horse emerging from Iowa and New Hampshire is reduced even further.

Read about the early voting calendar at earlyvoting.net