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Early voting for 2012 presidential election to begin Thursday in US

WASHINGTON -- Voters in 32 U.S. states and the capital Washington will be able to cast early ballots from Thursday ahead of the bitterly contested November presidential and legislative elections.

North Carolina gets the ball rolling on Thursday — the same day that U.S. President Barack Obama will accept his party's nomination to seek a second term in the White House at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

In the weeks to come, millions of voters across the United States will have the opportunity to cast ballots in nearly two-thirds of the country's 50 states, including the crucial battlegrounds of Florida, Colorado and Iowa.

According to analyst estimates, 40 percent of eligible American voters could go to the polls early, as compared with 33 percent who did so in 2008, when Obama swept into office over Republican nominee John McCain.

At the time, a Washington Post poll said 58 percent of early voters chose Obama, against 40 percent for McCain.

But this time, Obama and Republican White House nominee Mitt Romney could share the spoils, according to Michael McDonald, an expert on U.S. voter turnout at George Mason University in Virginia.

“I expect more parity in the early voting in 2012 than we saw in 2008,” McDonald said.

“In Iowa, you don't have to wait until Nov. 6 to vote. You can be among the first to vote in this election starting Sept. 27,” Obama told supporters at a campaign event in Urbandale, Iowa.

Democrats have set up the website www.gottavote.org to encourage voters to cast ballots early or vote by mail.

Republicans meanwhile enacted laws in Ohio and Florida shortening the early voting period.

But in both cases, the courts have ruled against them, extending the number of days allotted for early voting, saying participation by minority voters and those with low incomes — groups that are Democrat-leaning — would suffer.

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