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Posted: November 5, 2012 8:34 p.m.

Ga. early voting lags behind 2008 pace

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ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia early voting picked up in the final days, but it looks like turnout will fall just short of the 2 million ballots cast before the 2008 election.

Early voting in metro Atlanta was down by a larger margin, however, suggesting that Georgians in the rest of the state are picking up the slack.

As of Friday, almost 1.9 million people had either voted in person or mailed in ballots. That's more than a third of all registered Georgia voters. The total is not final, as elections officials expect more mail-in ballots to arrive through Election Day. About 73,000 requested absentee ballots had yet to be returned by Monday, according to Secretary of State Brian Kemp's office.

Most demographic groups are down slightly from their 2008 totals. Hispanic men and women are exceptions. Combined, they have cast 15,666 ballots, up from 14,914 four years ago.

Asian-Americans are also up slightly, casting 12,159 ballots compared to the previous 12,017.

African-American voters made up about a third of the early ballots received so far this year, more than their 30 percent share of all registered voters. Their 653,070 early ballots are about 93 percent of their 2008 total.

White voters' have cast about 59 percent of the early ballots, essentially even with their proportion of the registered voter list.

As occurred four years ago, early balloting has been heaviest in the most populous counties of metro Atlanta, but several of those counties have produced fewer early votes than in 2008. DeKalb's 160,820 - the highest total so far this year - lags behind its 2008 total by about 13 percent. Fulton County is about 19 percent off of its 2008 turnout. Both are majority Democratic counties, though it is difficult to draw absolute conclusions about partisan counts since Georgia does not require voters to register by party.

Cobb and Gwinnett, two more conservative counties around Atlanta, are also down this year.

Kemp's office had not released a full county-by-county breakdown by Monday afternoon.

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have strongly encouraged early voting, particularly in swing states. Obama ran up large leads in most swing states four years ago.

The GOP emphasis has cut into that advantage this year, though it remains to be seen whether that comes from an enthusiasm advantage or simply reliable voters deciding to vote early instead of on Election Day.

Neither presidential campaign invested heavily in a Georgia turnout effort. The state began the election cycle on some observers' lists of possible battlegrounds, but polls suggest that Romney should claim Georgia's 16 electoral votes by a decisive margin.

Obama lost the state by 5 percentage points in 2008, outperforming recent Democratic nominees. Bill Clinton was the last Democrat to win here, though he did so with just 43 percent of the vote in an election that featured independent Ross Perot.

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