Remember that grand ol’ tradition of casting your vote on the first Tuesday of November every four years for the next leader of the free world … eh, you know, that’s not going to work for us. How about the last Friday in October?

Nationally, states that offered early voting saw record numbers as voters concerned about long lines on Nov. 4 headed to the polls early. In South Carolina, early voting is not allowed, but people can vote absentee if they can claim one of 17 reasons for not being able to vote on Election Day, like they’ll be out of town or at work.

Voters lined up outside of the Charleston County election office last Friday, bringing beach chairs, iPods, and well-worn magazines, as the march of early birds snaked around the parking lot. Polls in South Carolina were open a week before Election Day to accommodate absentee voters. Officials reported people waiting as long as two hours to vote. Think of that — waiting two hours to avoid the lines on Election Day. By Friday afternoon the county had already processed 35,000 absentee ballots, more than twice the 16,000 who voted early in 2004.

“It’s getting busier every day,” said Marilyn Bowers, executive director of the county’s elections office.

The wait wouldn’t be half as long if the state allowed general early voting, she says, where residents can vote early for any reason. Instead, S.C. voters have to fill out a form stating their reason for voting early. Bowers says that is half the wait right there.

“Voters expect it,” Bowers says of unencumbered early voting. “Our legislators are going to have to give in and realize voters want to vote early without a reason.”

Many states offer early voting, with various levels of innovation. Oregon has voting by mail, and there have been some tests of internet voting, says Bill Moore, political science professor at the College of Charleston.

The media’s persistent prediction of long lines on Election Day is likely a major factor in lengthening those absentee lines, Moore says. And the long lines reported each evening on the news likely reinforces the perception, and rightly so, that lines could only get worse by Tuesday.

Another driving force is a grassroots effort in the black community to vote early, mirroring efforts by the Obama campaign to get supporters’ ballots cast before Election Day. And the volunteers who get their own vote out of the way can focus on get-out-the-vote efforts come Nov. 4.

The campaigns may also be sending voters to the polls early to avoid challenges from partisan poll watchers, says Moore. By Friday afternoon, only three or four absentee ballots of the 35,000 cast had been challenged.

At a campaign rally last week, U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn implored Democrats to vote early. Clyburn pointed to Tom Bradley, the black candidate for California’s governor who surprisingly lost his race in 1982. Bradley had been the unofficial winner election night until absentee ballots were counted, Clyburn said.

“The Bradley effect isn’t about what happened on election day,” Clyburn told the crowd. “It’s about what happened between now and election day.”

Choose your own election night adventure

The polls have closed, the ballots have been cast and counted, and Barack Obama/John McCain is president of the United States. The results showed that reasonable people/Fox News proved the naysayers wrong. Now we can look forward to four years of change/Daily Show fodder. He sure showed “that one”/that angry, old man.

The pundits are already saying we should expect a withdrawal from Iraq/march into Iran, North Korea, Syria, Russia, the retirement home. And our new president has promised to bring the fight to Bin Laden/that wedding dress sale at Filene’s Basement. Your 401K statement in the last quarter looked bad/so bad the mob wouldn’t put up with this type of disrespect, but things are looking up. The new president is prepared to offer the kind of tax incentives that will give you/your boss a much-needed cushion in these troubled times. He’ll be sure to spread the wealth/ashes of the media elite.

College will now be more affordable/awash with depressed first-time voters who believed those crazy kids from Gossip Girl when they said one vote matters. In response to out-of-control health care costs, the president will beat the industry into shape/ask companies nicely to regulate themselves. It worked last time, right? And Joe the Plumber will be happy to know that he’ll get a tax cut under Obama’s plan/Alan Colmes’ job.

What tipped the scales? We’ll go with the VIP endorsement of Colin Powell/Norm from Cheers. Or it could have been his knack for lofty oration/saying “my friends” to absolutely anyone.

Lest we forget the loser, who is no doubt licking his wounds at William Ayers’ house/one of eight McMansions. He was last seen mumbling something about Hillary/mooseburgers. Who’s to say why he lost — maybe it was those questions about his experience/incontinence. Others point to the Bradley/Palin effect. As for his most radical supporters, they’re certainly bitter today, clinging to their New York Times and NPR/ guns and religion.

Personally, we’re glad it’s over. Because if we had to hear about hope/real America one more time …. —Greg Hambrick