Early voting opens in critical North Carolina

A sign directs people where to vote during early voting at the Wood County Court House October 2, 2012 in Bowling Green, Ohio. Early voting began October 2 in the battleground state of Ohio, five weeks before election day on November 6. J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

Even though Election Day is still 19 days away, voters in North Carolina today join voters in 19 other states already able to cast their ballots, allowing the state's 6.5 million registered voters to vote even before the final presidential debate takes place.

President Obama beat John McCain in North Carolina in 2008 by fewer than 14,000 votes, and early voting is thought to have helped Mr. Obama, who received 56 percent of early voters (early voting made up 61 percent of North Carolina's votes in 2008).

It's a practice becoming more popular each election year. In 2008, one-third of voters nationwide cast their ballots early - a figure expected to rise this election.

North Carolina joins Iowa and Ohio, two other swing states that have early voting. As of Thursday morning, in Iowa, Democrats made up 49 percent of early voters and Republicans cast 30 percent of early ballots, according to the United States Elections Project out of George Mason University. Though that doesn't necessarily mean the president is leading Iowa's early vote as the votes aren't actually counted until Election Day. Nevada is the next battleground to open its polls, which happens Saturday.

Both Mitt Romney and President Obama's campaigns are running extensive get-out-the-early-vote efforts. First Lady Michelle Obama visited North Carolina Tuesday and the Obama campaign's "gottavote" election bus has spent the last few days there to encourage people to vote early.

Meantime, on behalf of Romney, former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum and Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus host a series of "Commit to Mitt" events throughout the state Thursday.

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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