By Chief foreign affairs correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/4/2004 7:54:42 PM ET 2004-10-04T23:54:42

Walk into campaign offices in suburban Detroit and you'd think the election is only days away. Volunteers there are scrambling to get out the vote — the early vote.

“We're trying to spread the word," says Chris Paolino of the Michigan Republican Party. "When people mention they're supportive of the president, we make sure they understand that they have the option to vote absentee.”

Both Republicans and Democrats are working the phones and knocking on doors — anything to get voters to cast a ballot before Election Day. It helps campaigns be more efficient.

“Once you know you've got a certain amount of voters that have already voted you don't have to concentrate on them," says Terry Spyszak of the Michigan Democratic Party. "You can concentrate on others and maximize your resources.”

This year 31 states permit some form of early voting — the highest ever — either by absentee ballot or in person. Some experts say as many as one in four voters will make their choice before November 2. That’s far more than four years ago.

For campaigns it’s no longer “Election Day” but “Election month.”

“We target people that we know are going to be our supporters and we try, literally, to get those votes in the bank,” says Kerry campaign advisor Tad Devine.

How much money are they going to spend on early voting? Millions, says Devine.

Who might vote early? Factory workers with less job flexibility, senior citizens who need help getting to the polls and busy suburban moms who don’t want to wait in long Election Day lines.

“We think it’s an opportunity to reach out to people who support you but are unreliable in whether they turn out,” says Bush-Cheney Campaign Manager Ken Mehlman.

But there is a risk. Many states permit campaigns to distribute and collect the early ballots. That could mean fraud or mistakes.

Just last week in Iowa, candidates in a statewide race were left off nearly 60,000 absentee ballots in four counties.

And early voters can’t factor in late developments.

“If there's an event or a terrorist attack three days before the election, 25 million may have voted and wouldn't know about it,” says election expert Curtis Gans.

But the campaigns love early voting because, in a close race, a big stockpile of absentee ballots can make all the difference.

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