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Hey, Iowa and New Hampshire! Read this!

December 2, 2007 |  2:12 pm

MILLBRAE, CA. -- Here's a little secret that got out this weekend that should chasten those smug folks in Iowa and New Hampshire who think that just because they are so totally unrepresentative of America as a whole, it is their right to always vote first in presidential years.

Publicity and news coverage to the contrary, they really aren't anymore.

Thanks to quiet changes in how busy Americans choose to vote -- namely the explosion of early absentee voting as a convenience, not a necessity caused by travel -- Florida's absentee voters will actually be the first Americans to start voting in the primary process for the 2008 election. They can start casting their ballots on Christmas Day, 23 days from now and a full nine days before Iowa's caucus-goers thought they'd be first in the nation.

This means that voting in the 2008 presidential election process actually begins in 2007.

That curious reminder emerged from a conference on elections, hosted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, outside San Francisco this weekend.

A survey of election deadlines -- distributed by one of the speakers, Paul Gronke, an elections expert at Reed College in Oregon -- shows that Sunshine state absentee voters will get first crack at the candidates.

This presents real problems for Democratic candidates like Hillary Clinton of New York, John Edwards of North Carolina, Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Joe Biden of Delaware, Chris Dodd of Connecticut (and, temporarily, Iowa) and Barack Obama of Illinois because they have abandoned campaigning in Florida as a result of the national party's sanctions on that state for moving its primary date up so far.

The Republican candidates--Rudy Giuliani of New York, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, fred Thompson of Tennessee--have been steadily campaigning in Florida, where both Romney and Giuliani have already invested heavily in TV and radio advertising.

Additionally, Gronke's documents show that a strong trend toward early absentee voting all over the West is also quietly undercutting the “first in the nation” primacy of the Hawkeye and Granite states. By this measure, for instance, Iowa is merely tied for second in voting order. On Jan. 3, the night of the Iowa caucuses (and the Fiesta Bowl that might tempt some to stay home by the TV), Arizona voters can begin voting absentee.

Californians may begin voting -- either absentee or in person at select locations -- as early as Jan. 7, a day before the once-inviolate primary primary in New Hampshire now set for Jan. 8. New Mexico voters also start voting absentee before the N.H. primary, starting on Jan. 5.

Oh, and for that matter, here's an even earlier note: overseas and military voters from California have a right to get a ballot starting in five days, on this coming Friday, Dec. 7.

--Joe Mathews

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