Overall, more than two in five Iowa voters (43%) cast early ballots. The figure was up sharply from the 31% who cast early votes in the state in 2008.
Michael McDonald, a George Mason University political scientist who studies early voting, said in an interview that when all the 2012 votes are finally counted, the share of votes cast early will rise to a record 35%, from about 30% in 2008.
The larger jump in Iowa is due primarily to the ferocity of early-vote competition between the campaigns there.
But there’s another potential factor: Iowans have been spared a recent trend in American politics: a concerted effort by Republicans at the state level to restrict voting.
Unlike some other key states, government is divided in Iowa; Democrats control the state Senate; the GOP holds the House and the governorship. That split makes it impossible for Republicans to enact legislation that might undermine early voting, assuming they wanted to.
In Florida, they did. The Republican Legislature and governor succeeded in shrinking the early-vote window, and the number of early in-person votes fell this year from 2008 (even though the total number of votes cast increased). In Ohio, courts blocked a similar GOP effort to limit early voting.
In the end President Obama built up too much of a lead for Romney to catch up.
This time, the Republican “win” in ballots cast on election day (51% for Romney to 46% for Obama) wasn’t enough. Obama took the early vote by 20 points (59% to 39%). And thanks to the size of the early vote, a state that many thought could go either way went for the president by a comfortable margin of nearly 6 percentage points.
That's the difference early voting makes for Democrats. That's why Republicans will now work as hard as they can to end the practice in every state possible. Republicans can't win on ideas, they have to win by limiting who can and cannot get to vote.
Always keep that in mind when you hear a GOP politician talk.