2 Nov 2008

High turnout in early voting shocks US election officials

11:12 am on 2 November 2008

A record-breaking two million people cast early ballots in the state of Georgia, an indication of high enthusiasm over this week's US presidential election.

Some residents waited eight hours in chilly weather to cast their ballots during the week of early voting.

The turnout in Georgia surprised election officials who estimated that as many as 35% of the state's 5.7 million registered voters cast their ballots early, but they did not extend the period in which early voting was allowed.

Just over 20% of the state voted early in 2004.

North Carolina and Florida, which also faced large early voting crowds, both extended their early voting hours.

Black Americans made up about 35% of those who voted early in Georgia this year, according to state figures, and most are likely to have backed Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

Polls show Mr Obama leading Republican senator John McCain nationally and in most of the battleground states where the race will be decided.

Of the 50 states, 34 allow early or in-person absentee voting. The turnout in Georgia mirrors increased participation elsewhere, with reports of long waits common across the country.

"I knew there would be a long line but I would rather spend an hour now rather than three on election day," said Maria Dangerfield, who voted in Decatur, Georgia.

Georgia has been a Republican stronghold in recent presidential elections - Bush won it by almost 17% in 2004 - but recent polling lists the state as a toss-up with McCain holding a 4% lead, according to the Real Clear Politics website.

The Obama campaign's strategy in Georgia, like that in other southern states with a significant minority of black voters, such as Virginia and North Carolina, is to boost turnout among African Americans while narrowing its deficit among whites.

Voting in the south is often racially polarised, with white voters backing the Republican Party and blacks voting Democratic, according to Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta.

Palin prank call

Republican vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin was the victim of a prank phone call by a Canadian comedian impersonating French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The prank tag-team from Quebec, "Justicia masques", who have previously targeted heads of state and celebrities, posted the conversation on their website (www.justiciers.tv).

The impersonator, Sebastien Trudel, told the Alaskan governor he is following the US elections closely along with his special American adviser Johnny Hallyday - a famous French rock'n'roll singer.

When the fake president told Mrs Palin his wife Carla Bruni is "hot in bed", the governor chuckled and complimented him for his "beautiful family".