Oct. 14, 2008 -- The presidential election is three weeks away, but many voters have already voted for either Barack Obama or John McCain.
More than 30 states allow people to vote early, either in-person or by mail, without having to give any excuse for not waiting until Election Day, making early voting a growing trend.
As a result of these so-called "no-excuse" provisions, one third of voters will have cast ballots in person or by mail by the time Election Day comes around, predicts Paul Gronke of the Early Voting Information Center.
"Early voting has more than doubled in the last eight years," Gronke said.
In 2004, Stephen Hightower, 28, of Columbus, Ohio, wasn't among the early voters.
"I stood in line four years ago for three hours at Ohio State," Hightower told ABCNews.com.
Determined not to repeat that experience, Hightower took advantage of Ohio's new "no excuse" early voting law that allows Ohioans to vote as early as Sept. 30 for any reason.
"I went to the early voting center near Franklin County in Columbus and just went in and about 10 minutes later I had voted, so it was pretty much an in-and-out process," said Hightower, who is now the director of the Ohio League of Young Voters, one of several advocacy groups urging students and first-time voters to go to the polls early.
Florida, Colorado Begin Early Voting Monday
In 2000, about 14 percent of voters voted early, and 20 percent voted early in 2004. Early voters are predicted to surge to more than 30 percent of those casting ballots this year.
Several states, including Ohio, Georgia and parts of Kentucky and Virginia, have already begun voting. The battleground states of Florida and Colorado begin early voting next Monday.
But for some, standing in line with your neighbors to vote is part of the American political tradition.
Howard Gale, 59, of Arlington, Va., refuses to vote early.
"It just doesn't feel like voting if I don't stand in line to vote and don't go to the little booth," Gale said. "I've always voted that way and even if I'm in line for an hour, I don't care."
Gale said he could see the line to his local polling station from his and his wife's bedroom window.
"Once I figured out you don't want to be the first person in line in Arlington, you want to wait until later in the day," Gale said.
Early Vote Turnout
Some political operatives argue that early voting is changing the way campaigns and interest groups conduct their get-out-the-vote effort.
"It's no longer just about Nov. 4," said Tate Hausman, director of Vote Today Ohio, an early-voting advocacy group that is giving rides to members of typically Democratic constituencies -- college students, first-time voters and low income voters -- to the polls.
"It's now about the entire four weeks leading up to Election Day," he said.
Hausman said progressive groups should take advantage of early voting to make sure every vote is counted.
"As we all remember from 2004, Ohio -- and other states -- experienced a huge crush of voters on Election Day, and many of them stood in lines for a very long time due to broken machines, not enough machines, and votes were lost," Hausman said.
"We're urging people to vote early, make sure their votes get in and get counted officially and go into the vault and not deal with the long lines, hassles and possible problems of Election Day," he said.
Early Voting May Benefit Obama
With Obama's considerable ground game advantage over McCain, and the latest polls showing a 10 percentage point lead, the Illinois senator is expected to benefit the most from early voting.
In some states, such as California, experts estimate that up to 40 percent of voters are going to vote by mail. In Oregon, everyone votes by mail.
Battleground states like Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado -- key states Obama is hoping to win -- have typically had high rates of early voting.
"More than half of those ballots will come in early," Gronke said.
States like Florida and North Carolina generally have between 20 percent to 30 percent early voters. Wisconsin and Minnesota have typically had lower levels of early voting, as has Ohio.
"Ohio is going to be different this year because they changed their rules and regulations and made it much, much easier for people to cast an early ballot," Gronke said.
In 2004, 6 percent or 7 percent of the ballots in Ohio came from early voters, but because of the new "no-excuse" provision, that number is expected to be much higher this year, Gronke said.
The Ohio Republican Party sued unsuccessfully in federal court to stop a provision that allowed early voters to register and cast a ballot on the same day in Ohio. From Sept. 30 to Oct. 5 -- dubbed "Golden Week" by some progressive advocacy groups -- Ohioans were permitted to register and vote on the same day.
The GOP had argued that because the early voting window allowed voters to register and vote on the same day, officials wouldn't have enough time to verify registration information.
More and More States Adopting Early Voting
Hightower predicted early voting will increase the number of Ohio students who vote this year.
"There's a lot of passion on campuses and intention to vote but any number of things can come up whether it's a test, work or class that might derail the students to go," he said.
"More people want to vote this year and care about the election," Hightower said. "So whenever they have the opportunity to do it on their own schedule, to do it when it's convenient to them, it just provides a greater window for them to take advantage of voting."
Gronke said more and more people are voting early because they can.
"More states have made this available, and citizens are responding," Gronke said. "States believe that this will help them deal with the crush of voters that appear on Election Day."
Many states adopt early voting after a "crisis," Gronke said.
"Florida adopted early voting after 2000 and Georgia followed suit," he said. "Ohio relaxed their 'no-excuse' provisions after 2004, so sometimes these laws are adopted rather quickly because it's seen as a way to respond to a problem in the election system."