Iowans began voting in the 2012 election Thursday.
A line of people was waiting for the doors to open at the Scott County Administrative Center, many of them present because of efforts by Democrats to get people to show up on the first day to vote.
Experts say that more than four in 10 Iowa voters could end up voting before Election Day, and the lobby on the administrative center’s first floor was crowded with people early on.
“I thought it was important to get out early and get it done,” said Betty Harmon, a Davenport woman who was casting her ballot for President Barack Obama.
Both parties actively are courting people to fill out absentee ballot requests. In Cedar Rapids, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, was leading a rally Thursday for Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney with a message to women and to get people to vote early.
So far, however, Democrats appear to be more aggressive. They are leading in the number of requests for absentee ballots, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office. More than 119,000 Democrats had sent requests for ballots, compared with 25,000 Republicans. More than 41,000 independents had asked for an absentee ballot.
Early voting is gaining favor across the country, and several swing states are involved.
In addition to voting by mail in Iowa, there also will be opportunities to vote at early voting stations, such as the one at the Scott County Administrative Center. The auditor’s office released a list of 10 additional sites that will be open at various times beginning in mid-October.
Much of the activity Thursday was generated by the Obama campaign. It encouraged people to vote, using social media sites Twitter and Facebook and other Internet-based tools. Also, a video featuring the president and Michelle Obama, as well as actresses Ashley Judd and Gabrielle Union, was posted Tuesday on the campaign’s website encouraging Iowans to vote early.
At the corner of 4th and Gaines streets, just across the street from the administrative center, Obama supporters waved signs at passing motorists early Thursday, pointing them to where they could vote. Meanwhile, volunteers served coffee and cookies to people who were waiting in line.
“Iowa was the first to launch President Obama, and today, Iowans in all of 99 counties made their voice heard today and cast the first ballots in the state to re-elect President Obama,” Erin Seidler, the Obama campaign’s Iowa spokeswoman, said.
Sally Sullivan of Bettendorf said she usually waits until Election Day to vote, but she experienced long lines four years ago.
“Now, I’m glad not to,” she said. She, too, is an Obama supporter.
Judy Davidson, the Scott County Republican Party chairwoman, said the local GOP did not mount an effort to get people to show up on the first day. But she noted 200 people were at an early-voting rally last Thursday.
“We’re just trying to get people out all the time,” she said.
Republicans have said they expect to match Democrats in early voting and they’ve just begun soliciting early votes.
Next month, a lineup of early-voting sites will open their doors to accommodate voters. Most were set up by the county auditor’s office, but the parties also were allowed to express a preference for early-voting sites.
Republicans asked that sites be set up at the fire stations in LeClaire and Maysville, areas with a relatively high percentage of Republican straight-ticket voters in the 2010 election. Those sites will have early voting for one day each next month.
The Obama campaign also asked that satellite sites be set up at Scott Community College and United Neighbors Inc., which had already requested early-voting locations there. As a result, those two sites will be open for two days each next month.
Four years ago, 36 percent of Iowans voted before Election Day. In Scott County, that figure was 45 percent. This election could be the first in history when more than half of the local electorate casts ballots before Election Day.
Thursday’s flurry of activity generated more than 200 votes by late morning, Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz said. That had grown to more than 300 by mid-afternoon, including the mail ballots that were dropped off.
That’s a fraction of the number of people who are expected to vote in the election overall. But it’s a far stronger first-day turnout than it was four years ago, although there wasn’t the same kind of organizational effort put into getting people to turn out immediately in 2008.
Overall, more than 85,000 people voted in Scott County in 2008, nearly 39,000 of them casting ballots early.