And we're off!
The first mail ballots have been sent to North Carolina voters. As of Friday mid-morning, election officials have mailed 5,085 ballots to 17,724 voters who submitted requests.
North Carolina is the first state to start early voting by mail. Indiana and Kentucky will be next up on Monday, Sept. 17. In October, some states will open special polling places for persons who wish to cast an early vote in-person.
As the early voting season progresses, I track early voting here. A few states, like North Carolina, provide detailed information about early voters, including their party registration, age, gender and race.
I forecast that 35 percent of all votes will be cast prior to election day, up from 30 percent in 2008. This early in the election season, early voting statistics are merely a curiosity. But, as the season progresses, they will provide a clearer picture of the state of the election, particularly in key battleground states like Colorado, Florida, Nevada and North Carolina, that have high early voting rates.
UPDATE: Two people voted in North Carolina on Friday, marking the first ballots cast in the 2012 general election.