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Voting early? We're ready for you

Dear voter:

There is help for you inside this newspaper. So, please, please, hang on to it.

We've transformed today's Big Picture section into a comprehensive voters guide to more than 40 races and ballot issues.

This is early for our guide. Election Day is still nine days out. Traditionally, we've published a guide the Sunday before the election.

Two words explain why we change now: early voting.

It's become more popular than elections officials could have imagined. Through Saturday, more than 1 million North Carolinians already had voted. In Mecklenburg County, about 100,000 have voted.

“There are more early voting sites for this election,” notes Jim Morrill, the Observer's lead politics reporter. “People are also starting to get the hang of it.”

To help those voters, we made sure our voters guide was on CharlotteObserver.com when early voting began on Oct. 16. The online guide will remain on our Web site through Election Day (Nov. 4).

At least half of all voters locally are expected to wait until Election Day. If you are among them, we especially encourage you to pull out today's printed section and use it when you prepare to vote.

Next Sunday's newspaper will be packed with ongoing coverage of the most closely followed races. But it will not contain a guide to the dozens of contests on your ballot. This is that guide.

Here are other ways we are covering this election for you:

For a daily check on campaign developments, we've produced another guide called The Ballot. It appears in our A section and as a blog on CharlotteObserver.com. Your host for both is the Observer's Peter St. Onge. Peter's blog is among our most popular features. There, hundreds of readers take the opportunity to comment on the latest polls, speeches and campaign moves.

Readers also get to debate Peter's reporting style. “I've been called a star graduate of the Karl Rove School of Republican Politics, as well as a card-carrying member of the Liberal Garbage Press,” Peter says. “My favorite so far: Peter St. Obama. It's great to write about topics that people are so passionate about.”

Television viewers can watch Peter at 4p.m. each weekday on WCNC, the Observer's news partner, where he talks about the day's political buzz.

Jim Morrill also blogs on politics with a focus on local and state races. And Tonya Jameson is both writing and shooting video about political issues for her That's Wassup blog. Find them both on CharlotteObserver.com.

We can help you cut through the partisan spin you encounter in the candidates' own advertising. We fact-check the ads and report the results in our Ad-Watch series. This year, we've expanded our ad watches with the help of our sister newspaper, The News & Observer in Raleigh. You'll find a link to the ad watches of both papers on the elections page of CharlotteObserver.com.

A week from Tuesday, voters get the final word. Regardless of the outcome, we're planning now for a special election edition that many will want to keep to remind them of one of the most memorable elections in American history. Watch for it on Wednesday, Nov. 5.

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