Early voting ended Friday in Nevada, and election officials reported the record numbers of early and absentee ballots should add up to about half of the 800,000 people expected to vote by the time polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
By Friday evening, more than 380,000 Nevadans had cast early or absentee ballots in Clark, Washoe, Carson City and Douglas counties, where 91 percent of all Nevada voters live. As they have through most of the two-week early-voting period, Democrats were slightly ahead of Republicans.
In the remaining 13 Nevada counties, where Republicans outnumber Democrats, 18,227 early votes had been cast through Wednesday. At least 14,000 absentee ballots were expected in the outlying counties, bringing the combined statewide total to more than 410,000.
The previous record was in 2000, with 285,386 early and absentee voters.
Steve George, spokesman for Secretary of State Dean Heller, said this year's early and absentee totals keep the state on track for a record 800,000 Nevadans who will cast ballots - 75 percent of Nevada's nearly 1.1 million registered voters.
"This is by far the most contentious presidential election we've had in many, many years," said George. "The spending by candidates and parties on television, newspaper and radio ads and the continued polarization of the country is what's driving so many people to the polls this year."
In Nevada, George said controversial ballot questions dealing with medical malpractice and other issues, along with state Supreme Court races have helped to turn out more voters.
Breakdowns by party registration weren't available for Friday's voters in Clark County, Nevada's largest. When Clark's totals through Thursday night plus the Washoe-Carson-Douglas totals through Friday afternoon were counted, 151,329 Democrats and 148,522 Republicans had cast ballots - giving the Democrats a 2,807-vote margin.
The overall total in the major counties also included 51,800 nonpartisans and splinter-party members. Breakdowns of voters by party in outlying counties weren't immediately available.
Through late Thursday, Clark County accounted for 277,972 of the early and absentee voters, with Democrats making up nearly 45 percent of the balloting, slightly above their overall registration. Republicans accounted for nearly 41 percent of the votes - higher than their overall 37 percent registration. More than 31,000 additional county residents cast early or absentee ballots on Friday, pushing the Clark total past 300,000.
In Washoe County, there were 49,564 early and absentee voters as of Friday night. Republican voters, at 44 percent, were slightly above their overall registration percentage. Democrats, at 41 percent, were higher than their overall 36 percent of all Washoe County voters registered for the general elections.
Democrats say it's significant that they're doing so well in Washoe County, but Republicans say their turnout in populous Clark County isn't that far behind the Democrats and that bodes well for President Bush.
Democrats also say that the turnout figures don't reflect any crossover voting, and they believe such voting will benefit them more than it will help Republicans.
They've also said they expect a larger share of the nonpartisan and splinter-party members who vote for president.