Ark. Sees Surge of Early Voting as Election Nears

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Long lines were the norm again today at early voting stations across Arkansas. Secretary of State Charlie Daniels has predicted that between 65 percent and 70 percent of the state's 1.68 registered voters will end up voting in this year's presidential election.

By Friday, 20 percent had already cast a ballot through absentee or early voting. The turnout is high in a state that's mostly been a bystander in the presidential race and that polls show is poised to go for Republican John McCain in the presidential race.

Republicans are confident McCain has a lock on Arkansas' six electoral votes, and the Arizona senator has visited the state twice since clinching his party's nomination. Obama, meanwhile, has not campaigned in the state at all and a recent poll by the University of Arkansas showed him trailing by double digits among registered voters.

Still, Democrats say Arkansas has the best shot among southern states to go for Obama, pointing to the party's dominance of all statewide offices and strong majority in the Legislature. Democrats also control three of the state's four congressional seats.

Democratic Party chairman David Pryor says he thinks Obama has been closing his gap with McCain and is hopeful the state could switch. Except in years when Bill Clinton was on the presidential ballot, Arkansas has voted for Republicans since 1980.

Aside from the presidential race, there are no high-profile Senate or congressional races, shifting attention statewide to the five ballot measures going before voters. Lt. Gov. Bill Halter has been blanketing airwaves with ads promoting his proposed constitutional amendment to create a state-run lottery. If approved by the voters, the amendment authorizes the Legislature to establish a lottery to fund college scholarships.

The measure has faced opposition from a conservative group that lost a court challenge attempting to remove the proposal from the ballot. --- A proposed initiated act on the ballot would ban unmarried and same-sex couples from becoming foster or adoptive parents. Backers of the measure say it's aimed at gay couples, though it would affect both heterosexual and homosexual couples alike.

Voters will also consider a proposal to issue $300 million in bonds for water projects, a proposal to allow the Legislature to meet annually and an amendment to remove outdated election language from the state's constitution.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)