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Consultants Devising System for Early GOTV

With early voting options now available in 29 states, activists on both sides of the aisle are unleashing revolutionary Internet-based technologies to try to harness as many pre-Election Day votes as possible.

“It’s getting the base there early — locking in your base” explained Democratic strategist John Edgell, who along with his business partner Roger Stone has devised an e-mail-based system that urges passionate and passive voters with Democratic-leanings to cast their ballots in advance.

How do they do it?

First their company, @dvocates Inc., cross-references a database of national voter file information with 200 million e-mail addresses to find its universe of likely voters. Then they send out a “welcome” e-mail inviting the potential voter to communicate with them.

If the voter opts in, he receives an invitation to vote by mail with a link to a pre-filled out vote by mail application for his particular state.

And because the system allows the company to track how many messages were delivered, opened, forwarded and clicked-through, clients can get a feel for how well the voter contact system is working for their campaign.

“This is about motivation and convenience,” said Edgell, who worked on Capitol Hill for 22 years as a Democratic aide to Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.), Sen. John Breaux (La.) and Reps. Pete Stark (Calif.) and Dennis Kucinich (Ohio).

“It’s revolutionary because it brings [voter registration and voting] to their doorstep.”

Across town, Greg Casey’s conservative-leaning Business Industry Political Action Committee — which has tried to mimic organized labor’s success with grassroots mobilization of voters — has just unleashed a new online program called EZVote to assist voters in casting their ballots early via mail or in person.

“We want people to know that early voting is for everyone,” Casey said. “Casting a ballot seems simple and most people will tell you they voted. But with busy schedules, transportation issues, illness, travel and emergencies, there are a lot of reasons why many well-intentioned registered voters don’t make it to the polls.”

Early voting has become a critical component of elections in many states.

In the 2003 special election for Texas’ 19th district seat that was ultimately won by now-Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R), more than half the votes were cast early, and in South Dakota more than 10 percent of voters used the “no-excuse” absentee ballot method of voting.

With an aim at increasing voter turnout, 29 states currently allow voters to cast early ballots in person, while 24 states allow early voting by mail without an excuse. While Michigan, Missouri and Ohio allow some form of early voting prior to Oct. 1, Pennsylvania permits voters with an approved excuse to vote as early as Sept. 13.

Moreover, statistics show that people who take the trouble to request an absentee ballot tend to use them. In South Dakota, of the 31,708 absentee forms requested, 30,600 were returned.

With those thoughts in mind, BIPAC is encouraging thousands of business and trade organizations to direct their employees to, where they can plug in their zip code and learn instantly whether, when and how they can vote early in person or by mail.

The site even allows the user to download the appropriate form to submit their application to vote by absentee ballot.

Casey suspects the impact of early voting will “continue to rise as more states ease restrictions on the practice and influential groups mount grassroots efforts to educate voters about their options.”

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