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Absentee voting in Va most brisk in GOP localities

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Republican-leaning counties were off to the fastest start on absentee voting, according to State Board of Elections data through Friday.

The data, gathered and analyzed by the Virginia Public Access Project, show that of the 25 localities where absentee voting is busiest, 21 voted Republican in the 2008 presidential race. And of the 25 localities where absentee balloting is the slowest so far, 16 supported Obama.

Absentee voting continues through the Saturday before the Nov. 6 election.

VPAP, a nonprofit and nonpartisan tracker of money in state politics, compared the number of absentee ballots cast in each Virginia locality since absentee voting began Sept. 21 to final absentee ballot totals in those jurisdictions four years ago. In its analysis, VPAP expresses this year's totals to date as a percentage of the 2008 absentee vote.

The city of Lexington, home to the campuses of Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University, had the highest rate of early absentee votes at 27 percent with 22 days left to cast absentee ballots. As of Friday, according to SBE figures, 98 absentee ballots had been cast compared with a final total of 363 four years ago when Obama won nearly 62 percent of the vote in Lexington.

Major Democratic strongholds including the cities of Richmond, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News and Hampton as well as the state's largest locality, Fairfax County, were all at less than 10 percent of the 2008 absentee count, when Obama won each with about 60 percent of the vote or more.

But the lowest rate of absentee voting so far was 7.1 percent in Republican-voting Chesterfield County, a Richmond suburb that Republican John McCain carried in 2008.

While the pace of absentee voting was most brisk in cities and counties won by Republicans four years ago, localities where Obama won account for 33,793 absentee ballots, or 56 percent, of the 60,612 cast statewide as of Friday, according to the VPAP breakdown.

Republicans have made absentee voting a major thrust of this year's get-out-the-vote strategy, an attempt to counter an enormous absentee push by 2008 campaign when Obama took nearly two-thirds of the 511,247 Virginia absentee and provisional ballots cast. Obama defeated McCain by 234,537 votes out of nearly 3.7 million cast statewide and became the first Democrat to win a presidential race in Virginia since 1964.

The early results may not necessarily be indicative of the final absentee voting results, and the data are preliminary and subject to change, cautioned David Poole, VPAP's founder and executive director.

Unlike many states, Virginia does not have early voting, which allows ballots to be cast before Election Day for any reason or no reason at all. In Virginia, voters must qualify under one of a dozen conditions to vote early by absentee, including illness, disability or pregnancy, military service, absence for business, those involved in running the election, or those jailed and awaiting trial.

Voters applying for absentee ballots in person have until three days before the election while those applying for an absentee ballot online or by mail or phone have until 5 p.m. EST on Oct. 30.

The deadline for registering to vote is Monday.

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Online:

State Board of Election Absentee Voting Information: http://1.usa.gov/S30BtM

SBE Voter Registration Information: http://1.usa.gov/SjbPto

Virginia Public Access Project Analysis: http://www.vpap.org/updates/show/1072

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