Absentee voting up locally, statewide
It's hard for her to find time to wait in line on Election Day, especially with two young children in tow, the 36-year-old Janesville woman said.
So Smith brought her 4-year-old daughter, Lucie, with her to Janesville City Hall on Monday while she voted two weeks early.
"It's just easier for my husband and I to vote absentee because then we don't have to find someone to watch the kids," she said.
Many people have had the same idea this election season.
Municipal clerks all over the state are seeing increases in absentee voting, said Nancy Zastrow, Milton clerk-treasurer and president of the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association.
"(Voters) feel that this is going to be such a huge voter turnout, and people are busy, they don't want to stand in line and have to wait," she said.
In the past, Wisconsin voters could vote absentee only if they were disabled, out of town or over 70. But the law changed in about 2000, and now anyone can vote absentee for any reason or no reason at all, Zastrow said.
This year, both Barack Obama and John McCain have encouraged their supporters to vote early.
Voters seem to be taking their advice. So far, the city of Janesville has issued 2,860 absentee ballots. That's up about 52 percent for the same period in 2004, said Jean Wulf, city clerk-treasurer. The number of in-person absentee voters has doubled.
A slow but steady stream of people filed into City Hall on Monday morning to register to vote or submit their ballots early.
Mary Lou Schroeder always votes, but this year she decided to avoid the lines and vote early.
"I just decided that I really want to get away from the crowds," she said.
Schroeder is a volunteer with the Obama campaign, and she'd like to spend Election Day helping the campaign, she said.
She thinks some people are voting early because they are afraid of voting machine malfunctions on Election Day. They want to make sure their votes count, she said.
Some municipal clerks don't like the increase in absentee voting because it's more work, Zastrow said. Absentee ballots must be sealed and signed, and poll workers must open the envelopes on Election Day, and hand-feed the ballots into the machines.
But Zastrow thinks it's good to give voters the opportunity to vote early, she said.
"If that's going to get people to come out and vote, I'll deal with the hardship," she said.
Voters have to options to case absentee ballots:
Requests for absentee ballots must be received by your municipal clerk by Thursday, Oct. 30. You can download the request form at the state Government Accountability Board by visiting http://elections.state.wi.us, clicking FAQs in the left column and choosing "absentee voting."
You can send your own letter requesting an absentee ballot as long as it includes your name, address, mailing address and birth date.
Either way, you must include an original signature on the request, and you must be registered to vote at your current address.
The completed ballots must be received by Election Day, Nov. 4.
You can register to vote and vote absentee in person at your municipal clerk's office.
City of Janesville residents can vote or register from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays at Janesville City Hall, 18 N. Jackson St. The clerk's office also will be open from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, said Jean Wulf, clerk-treasurer.
City of Milton residents can vote or register from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays at Milton City Hall, 430 E. High St. The clerk's office will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. next week, Oct. 27 through 31, and probably will offer extended hours the night before the election, said Nancy Zastrow, clerk-treasurer.
BEAT THE LINES
If you want to vote on Election Day but don't want to spend a long time in line, make sure you register before Nov. 4, local clerks said.
You need to register if you've never registered before or changed your address or name since the last time you voted.
In Janesville, registered voters waited about 20 to 30 minutes to cast their votes in the 2004 election, said Jean Wulf, clerk-treasurer. Non-registered voters waited an hour or more to register and vote, she said.
The deadline to register by mail has passed, but you still can register in person at your municipal clerk's office. Bring a photo ID and proof of residence. A driver's license or state identification card with your current address satisfies both requirements.