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Get ready for rush at polls

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ANN MARIE AMES
February 15, 2008
— Lori Stottler can’t quite say she’s expecting a 60 percent voter turnout.

But as the Rock County clerk, she’s ordered 54,000 ballots for the county’s 90,115 registered voters.


Historically, the county orders ballots for 40 percent of its voters, Stottler said.


About 35 percent of Wisconsin’s eligible voters are expected at the polls for Tuesday’s presidential preference primary, said Kevin Richmond, spokesman for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.


For a similar election in 2004, 24.1 percent of eligible voters turned out, he said.


The lack of a sitting president is bringing a lot of attention to this presidential race, said Joe VanRooy, social studies teacher at Parker High School. And it’s rare a presidential primary lasts until Wisconsin’s mid-February vote, he said.


Wisconsin’s vote really counts this year, VanRooy said.


“It’s not all decided after New Hampshire or Carolina,” VanRooy said. “Many people, like myself, were speculating it would be over early.”


Another reason for the big turnout is a growing interest in politics among young people, VanRooy said. Craig High School social studies teacher Sam Loizzo agreed.


“The kids in our high school are excited about the potential,” Loizzo said. “They’re looking at candidates they can relate to. (Sen. John) McCain being as moderate as he is works maybe better here than with the Christian coalition, and I think (Sen. Barak) Obama and the youth coalition has really taken off here.”


The non-partisan League of Women Voters registered 33 seniors at Craig and more than 60 at Parker this month, the respective teachers said.


City Clerk Jean Wulf is ready for them.


Four years ago, Janesville was facing what was then Wisconsin’s biggest-ever school referendum, so it’s a whole different ball game this time, Wulf said.


Tuesday’s ballot is packed with 11 people running for three seats on the Janesville City Council. Voters in wards 1 and 2 also will choose two candidates in a three-way race for Rock County Board District 18.


Wulf ordered 21,000 ballots for the city.


In February 2004, voters cast a little more than 15,000 ballots, she said.


Walworth County’s historical county board primary has clerks ordering extra ballots, too.


The county has seven primaries with 23 candidates. Because the board is shrinking from 25 to 11 districts, some primaries will pit incumbent against incumbent with a mix of newcomers challenging them.


The city of Delavan ordered 3,025 ballots for Tuesday compared to 2,025 ballots in 2004, said County Clerk Kim Bushey. The city of Elkhorn ordered 2,500 ballots—450 more than the last presidential primary, she said.


“If any municipality even thinks they’re going to run short, I can print (ballots) in house,” Bushey said. “In general, we don’t have concerns about running short.”


It’s a Wisconsin thing

The concept of a presidential primary was born in Wisconsin, Parker High School social studies teacher Joe VanRooy said.


Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette, former Wisconsin governor, senator and presidential candidate, thought the “average voting American Wisconsinite” should decide whom political parties nominate as their candidate for the general election, he said.


That’s all a primary is, VanRooy said, an intra-party election.


Prior to 1903, those decisions took place in the smoke-filled rooms of taverns and other meeting places, he said.


La Follette’s idea spread like wildfire in the progressive era, VanRooy said, and Wisconsin was the first to have a statewide direct primary law.


Students speak out

Craig and Parker social studies teachers Sam Loizzo and Joe VanRooy are thrilled to see an uptick in high school students’ interest in the presidential campaign and politics.


What do the students have to say about it?


Kelsey Andrews, 17, junior, Craig


Andrews will turn 18 days before the November general election


Q: Are you excited to vote?


A: I really am, actually. My opinion counts. I’m a woman, and that is nice, too. It would be an honor to vote.


Alex Benedict, 18, senior, Parker


Q: Do you and your friends get in arguments about politics?


A: We talk about the candidates and the differences. We try to keep it calm, but … well, with my friends, there are certain topics we don’t talk about. We have different opinions on those a lot.


Kara Condon, 17, senior, Parker


Q: Why is this election different than other presidential elections?


A: I think a lot of people are looking for change based on the fact of the Iraq war and the whole Bush administration. I think everybody’s ready for a change. I think it’s catching people’s eyes and getting the excitement rolling out.


Ben Crittenden, 18, senior, Craig


Crittenden saw Sen. Russ Feingold speak Saturday in downtown Janesville


Q: Are you a Feingold fan?


A: Very much so. I really like his stance on civil liberties. I like how he’s for universal health care. He’s a really well rounded guy.


Kenneth Konkol, 17, senior, Parker


Q: Why are students excited about this election?


A: I think a lot of the students here think it’s their time to vote now, and I think a lot of them will take that responsibility.


Harold Lloyd, 18, senior, Parker


Q: Are kids other than the ones in AP government excited about the election?


A: I’ve seen quite a few throughout the school. I think it’s partly because it means a lot to them dealing with the war and other situations going on right now.


Emily Rothering, 17, senior, Craig


Q: Do kids talk more about issues or their favorite politicians?


A: We’re more involved in wanting to know about issues like abortion and definitely the war. I have a bunch of friends interested in trading and foreign relations. I have a couple friends who watch C-SPAN religiously.


Kiefer Stenseng, 17, senior, Craig


Q: How are you getting involved in the presidential election?


A: I went to the (Sen. Barack) Obama rally in Madison. It was amazing to see him. I’m not exactly what I would call a liberal or a conservative, but Obama has the most views I agree with.


Travis Wood, 18, senior, Parker


Q: Outside of AP government class, where do you turn to learn about politics?


A: I read The New York Times and The Washington Post online. I get their e-mail alerts, which are really helpful in getting me the news.



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