Voter guide: Spring election features heated races

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Frank Schultz
Sunday, April 5, 2015

Heated politicking is making Tuesday's nonpartisan elections among the hottest spring elections in years. Here's a primer:

Tuesday's voting checklist:

-- Vote early or vote late: Polls statewide are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

-- No ID needed to vote. This is likely to be the last time this is true for Wisconsin voters.

However, if you are registering to vote at the polls, perhaps because you moved since the last election, you must bring proof of residence. For more, and to find your polling place, call your local municipal clerk or visit myvote.wi.gov.

-- For whom to vote: See sample ballots published in today's paper or see myvote.wi.gov.

-- Special Milton note: Mayor Brett Frazier's name will be on the ballot, but he has said he has dropped out. The two active candidates are Tom Chesmore and Anissa Welch.


Few, if any, will have to wait very long at the polls.

The Government Accountability Board predicts a 20 percent turnout statewide.

Rock County Clerk Lori Stottler's best guess is that high-interest races for school board and city council in Janesville could boost turnout above 20 percent in the city, but the rest of the county is likely to be in the 15-percent to 18-percent range.


Rock County will be using its new vote-tabulating machines for the second time. They were used at 10 polling places in the February primary.

Now, all 48 county polling places in 28 municipalities will use the machines.

The machines have been tested and poll workers trained.

Stottler said this is the first time in Wisconsin these machines will be used to send in results via cellphone technology. But the technology has worked fine in other places, including neighboring Minnesota.

The process will not be much different for voters. They will sign the poll book, mark their ballots and place the ballots in a slot near the top of the machine.

Differences: Instead of completing an arrow on the ballots, voters will fill in an oval next to their choices, much like bubble tests they took in school.

Repeated tests show the bubbles don't have to be completely filled in, so if you miss a spot, the vote will register. Coloring outside the lines is likewise OK.

Stottler has seen a few glitches, such as one machine that froze during the February primaries and had to be rebooted, but she doesn't anticipate problems that can't be dealt with.

“I'm confident in the machines because we've been at this for four or five months, now,” she said.

Stottler says the new machines are faster, and that should mean faster reporting of the unofficial election-night results to the public.

Write-in votes, however, still must be counted by hand. The machines will register only the total number of write-in votes in each race. The races for three Janesville School Board seats are likely to attract a lot of write-ins. See the accompanying article for more on that race.


Stottler notes that politicking is forbidden within 100 feet of polling places. Outside that radius, however, advocacy is allowed as long as it doesn't cause disruptions or safety issues.

Inside the polls, voters can bring notes or lists so they remember all their choices, but they should not show those materials to anyone else, Stottler said.

Poll workers are allowed to tell a voter the names of registered write-in candidates, but only if the voter asks, Stottler said.

Stottler recommends people use their best penmanship for write-in votes.

The law requires poll workers to determine the voter's intent when reading write-ins. That means that if the spelling is off, or if letters are not legible, the vote could still be registered to that particular candidate.

Poll workers have received training in their duties in counting write-in votes, Stottler said.


Voters statewide will choose between two candidates for state Supreme Court after a lively race between incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley and Rock County Circuit Court Judge James Daley,

For those who like the drama, consider the last statewide recount was a Supreme Court race in 2011, when incumbent Justice David Prosser narrowly defeated Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg.

Much like in the current election, conservatives backed Prosser while liberals backed Kloppenburg. The recount took more than a month.

Locally, Rock and Walworth counties are both choosing new circuit court judges.

Janesvillians have interesting choices that could make significant changes on their city council and school board, Stottler noted.


-- A statewide referendum to change the Constitution, which would change how the state Supreme Court picks its leader. The leader now is the most senior member. The change would have the justices vote for the chief. If voters approve the change, conservatives on the court are expected to replace longtime Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

-- A $25 million school referendum in the Elkhorn district.

-- Chairman and two town board races in the town of Beloit, where incorporation will be on the new board's agenda.

“I guess there's plenty to get excited about, but spring elections traditionally don't yield the turnout that fall elections do,” Stottler said.



JANESVILLE—The highly contentious race for three Janesville School Board seats will mean a late night for poll workers Tuesday.

Vote-tabulating machines do not read people's handwriting, so those votes must be counted by hand.

Rock County Clerk Lori Stottler said depending on the number of people who enter write-in votes, counting them could be “an enormous job.”

The unofficial school board results could be done as early at 10:30 p.m. or as late as sometime early Wednesday morning, said Karl Dommershausen, clerk and member of the Janesville School Board.

By contrast, Stottler said she hopes to have the results for the non-write-in races before 9 p.m. Tuesday

By law, poll workers at each poll must count the write-in votes. Those results are then communicated to the school board clerk and the county clerk, officials said.

Dommershausen said his team will set up shop at Janesville City Hall and tabulate the incoming results, which comprise Janesville's 31 wards and parts or all of the surrounding towns: Harmony, Janesville, La Prairie and Rock.

For the three seats on the Janesville School Board, voters could choose one or both of those on the ballot, incumbent Greg Ardrey and challenger Carla Quirk. They also could choose from among the registered write-in candidates: Incumbent David DiStefano, Julieta Henry and Steve Huth.

In addition, state law allows people to write in any other name, because the number of candidates listed on the ballot is fewer than the number of positions open, Stottler said. That means poll workers are obliged to count the registered write-ins and any other name that is written in.

In other races where the number of candidates on the ballot is enough to fill the seats, write-ins will be counted only if those write-in candidates have registered, Stottler said.

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