Absentee ballots surpass 2004
Early voting in the presidential race has gone beyond 2004 levels in many parts of Wisconsin, including several cities expected to go for Democrat Barack Obama.
In Janesville, nearly 5,000 voters have been issued absentee ballots, said Jean Wulf, the city's clerk-treasurer. In the 2004 election, the city issued about 4,600 absentee ballots.
"It's been a very busy week, and I suspect it will get busier," said Wulf, adding that she can't speculate on how high absentee voting will go in Janesville.
Absentee voters can receive and cast their ballot in Wulf's office, where the wait sometimes has been 20 minutes when busy, she said. That's comparable to waits at Janesville polling places on Election Day, she said.
"In 2004, a wife came to our office and voted absentee and it took her about an hour," Wulf said. "Her husband went to the polls and got through in about 20 minutes.
"It's hard to guess when we or the polls will be busiest."
Rock County Clerk Lori Stottler said absentee voting is high everywhere in the county, particularly in larger municipalities where clerks have longer office hours to accommodate absentee voters.
Stottler said the increase in absentee ballots likely will delay totaling results on Election Day. Poll workers must feed absentee ballots into readers, but they're likely to be busy enough with voters at the polling places.
"Chances are, that won't happen until 8 p.m., so the results will likely be delayed," Stottler said.
In Milwaukee, more than 10,000 people have voted by absentee ballot at the municipal building. That's up from 8,000 in 2004 and the number is expected to grow by 700 per day until the Nov. 4 election, said Neil Albrecht, assistant director of the Milwaukee Election Commission.
"We are seeing people from all over the city," he said. "It really demonstrates all the excitement around the election."
In Madison, voters have endured lines of 45 minutes or longer in recent days to cast ballots at the clerk's office. An official tally wasn't available Monday, but officials expect to surpass the 25,000 absentee voters of 2004.
Turnout has been so heavy statewide that a Government Accountability Board spokesman said Monday its original estimate that 15 percent of Wisconsin votes would be cast by absentee ballot was too low.
"We may have been wrong," Kyle Richmond said of the estimate, which was already higher than the 12 percent in 2004.
City clerks contacted Monday by The Associated Press said they are nearing or have broken 2004 records and still expect their biggest crowds in the final week before the Nov. 4 election.
"It is everybody. It is amazing," said Appleton Clerk Cindi Hesse, who is expecting the number of absentee votes to far exceed the 5,000 in 2004. "We have first-time voters versus those who come in with walkers and wheel chairs."
In Green Bay, more than 5,000 absentee votes had been cast as of Monday, compared to 4,000 total in 2004. In Kenosha, more than 6,000 people voted early—already a 500-person increase over 2004.
Both presidential campaigns have urged supporters to vote early. John McCain and the Republicans got a head start, blanketing the state with mailings containing absentee ballot applications addressed to clerks. Some clerks credited that with generating early interest in absentee voting.
But Obama and the Democrats appear to have caught up after holding a series of events around the state with prominent politicians and celebrities touting the benefits of early voting. Sen. Russ Feingold was holding more such events on eight college campuses around the state Monday and Tuesday.
Both campaigns see early voting as a way to lock in their supporters and free up volunteers to work on Election Day. Voters say they hope to avoid potential hassles on Election Day—although some are finding lines just as long or longer than they might be next week.
Unlike some other states, Wisconsin does not register voters by party. That means no one knows precisely who is heading to the polls early.
But the heavy turnout in Democrat-leaning cities like Milwaukee, Madison, Janesville, Racine and Kenosha bodes well for the Obama campaign. Less clear is which candidate benefits, if either, from early turnout in more politically divided cities such as Green Bay and Appleton.
The high interest in the typically conservative western and northern suburbs of Milwaukee would seem to benefit McCain.
In the Republican-leaning city of Waukesha, deputy clerk Gina Koslik said nearly 5,400 have voted absentee or nearly the same number as in the 2004 presidential election. And she predicted another 2,000 early voters before Election Day.
"We are very busy," she said. "This week is going to be absurd."
Voters have to options to case absentee ballots:
Requests for absentee ballots must be received by your municipal clerk by Thursday. 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 returned 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.