RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Voters in tightly contested North Carolina have seen the presidential candidates and their surrogates a lot this summer.
What helps make the state such a political hot spot is that voting begins there before anywhere else.
Election officials begin mailing ballots Sept. 9 to any registered voter in North Carolina who formally requested one. That's the earliest in the country and 60 days before the Nov. 8 election.
A few other battleground states start mailing absentee ballots two weeks later. An array of states follows with differing forms of early in-person voting in the campaign's final weeks.
It's for that reason that North Carolina provides campaigns with an early test.
MAILING IT IN
People don't have to give a reason to vote by mail in North Carolina, such as out-of-town Election Day traveling or being too sick to leave the house.
A little over 200,000 mailed ballots were collected in 2012, which amounted to less than 5 percent of the state's 4.5 million voter turnout. Republicans historically have favored mail-in ballots and could be critical to who gets the state's 15 electoral votes. Republican Mitt Romney won the state by 92,000 votes in 2012, while Democrat Barack Obama won by 14,000 votes in 2008.
STILL IN COURT
Getting more attention right now in North Carolina is the early in-person voting the state offers in all 100 counties. It's wildly popular: 56 percent of the votes for the November 2012 elections were cast at early-voting centers and county election offices over a period of 17 days. Democrats generally favor this form of in-person "no excuse" absentee voting.
The Republican-led Legislature and GOP Gov. Pat McCrory reduced that period to 10 days in a 2013 law that also mandates photo identification to vote. Voters, civil rights groups and the U.S. Justice Department sued, and last month a federal appeals court struck down the photo ID mandate and ordered early voting restored to 17 days. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has said that elements of that overturned voter ID law heighten the possibility for a "rigged" election.
The state has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay the ruling. Otherwise, early voting will begin Oct. 20. While more days are now required for early voting, local election boards — each with Republican majorities — are considering whether to cut back the number of early voting sites or hours.
Georgia election officials begin mailing absentee ballots Sept. 20, followed by Wisconsin on Sept. 22, Virginia on Sept. 23 and Michigan the following day. Iowa begins mailing ballots Sept. 29. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire start in October.
In addition to North Carolina, early in-person vote is permitted in some form by 35 other states and the District of Columbia. Among battleground states, Iowa also opens early voting Sept. 29, followed by Ohio (Oct. 12) and Georgia (Oct. 17). Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Hampshire don't have early in-person options.
Three states — Oregon, Washington and Colorado — mail ballots to all registered voters, but Washington and Colorado also allow the option of voting early in person.