OTTAWA - Voting for Jack Layton's successor starts today as the race for the federal NDP leadership enters its final lap.

The vast majority of the more than 128,000 eligible party members are expected to vote through the mail or online before the party's March 24th leadership convention in Toronto.

The estimated three-thousand New Democrats who attend the convention will be able to vote there.

The advanced voting will take much of the drama out of the convention.

Trailing candidates who are forced to drop out can still theatrically cross the floor at the convention to another contender.

But to have much influence over their supporters, trailing candidates would have to drop out and endorse a rival before the bulk of the advance voting has taken place.

That helps explain the timing of Robert Chisholm's endorsement yesterday of Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair.

Chisholm dropped out of the race before Christmas, citing his inability to speak French.

Quebec MP Romeo Saganash has also dropped out, but has yet to endorse anyone else.

Others vying to succeed Layton include former party president Brian Topp, Toronto MP Peggy Nash, Ottawa MP Paul Dewar, British Columbia MP Nathan Cullen, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton and Nova Scotia pharmacist Martin Singh.