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Scenes from a busy day at the polls

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Gazette staff
June 6, 2012

Gazette reporters visited polling places in Rock and Walworth counties during Tuesday's history-making elections. Here are some stories they found:


Cars on the grass

Cars were parked on the grass, and the line to vote extended into the parking lot at the Janesville Town Hall at 10 a.m.


"My goodness, I haven't seen a line like that, even for a presidential," said a woman as she took her place in line.


Poll workers interviewed throughout the day would remark that turnout most closely resembled the large turnouts for presidential elections.


'We're a friendly town'

Town Clerk Marilyn Larson in Darien was among those who said turnout was on pace to meet or exceed the 2008 presidential election turnout. Despite the constant stream of voters, Larson had time to help out a confused voter.


"He came in with questions on the registration paperwork," Larson said. "We determined he was not in the right place to vote, but I helped him fill out the paperwork and sent him on his way to another town. We're a friendly town here."


Waiting for polls

Many polls reported lines even before they opened their doors at 7 a.m.


"Hear ye, hear ye, the polls of Johnstown are now open," is what they heard when the doors opened at the Johnstown Community Center.


"Somebody actually got to hear me this morning," chief inspector Penny Ardelt said.


Less than four hours into the 13-hour voting period, 113 Johnstown voters had voted. They represented more than 20 percent of all the town's registered voters.


Out the door

At 11:10 a.m., nearly 29 percent of the registered voters had voted at Janesville's Harrison Elementary School.


"We were out the door from the beginning. But a nice crowd, very pleasant," said co-chief elections inspector Mary Johnson. "The weather's nice, and people are in good spirits."


"A lot of registrations. I'm surprised," Johnson said.


Voters waited up to 45 minutes to cast their ballots at Harrison during the busiest times Tuesday.


Other polls also reported large numbers of registrations. Not all registrations are new voters. Some changed addresses or changed their names, requiring new registrations, and some had been purged from voter lists after not voting for four years.


'Love when it's busy'

Nearly 1,000 had voted by 11:35 a.m. for the four wards that vote at Janesville's Kennedy Elementary School. Sixty-eight people had registered.


"It's been wonderful," chief inspector Joanne Shields said. "I just love it when it's busy."


Shields had one unhappy voter. He was taking pictures of the voting booth, his ballot and of Shields when she asked him to put the camera away.


"He said we were being ornery because of the person he voted for, but obviously we don't know who he voted for," Shields said.


Cameras at the polls

Photography at the polls may be a bigger issue with the proliferation of cell phones and the look-at-me nature of social media.


It's a felony to take a picture of someone's ballot. That's clear in state law. What's not clear is whether one can take photos elsewhere inside a polling place.


The rules specifically allow news media photography if there's no objection from the chief inspector or from a voter who would end up in the photo, Rock County Clerk Lori Stottler said.


The poll's chief inspector may remove anyone who interferes with an election and can call police for help if the offender doesn't comply, Stottler said.


The rules also say that election observers may not use cameras during voting hours, but there's no rule about voters using cameras, Stottler said.


"It's expected we're not going to have to deal with cameras outside of the media," Stottler said. "We've told them (poll workers) to err on the side of caution."


Polling place confusion

Some people are still adjusting to the fact that ward lines have been redrawn after the 2010 Census. Adding to confusion, Janesville and some other municipalities have moved voting places.


Erica Broadbent of Janesville learned that the hard way. Her mother told her she votes at Marshall Middle School. Marshall is no longer a polling place, so when she showed up there, someone suggested she go to City Hall.


Broadbent drove downtown, where the greeter at the polling place there told her that her polling place is Kennedy Elementary School.


"It's just frustrating that if it's a big city, why can't they get their stuff straight," she said.


The city sent out postcards in advance of the February primary election to notify voters of their polling places.


Broadbent finally did vote but didn't appreciate having to chase around town in high heels. She could have found her polling place if she had access to a computer and knew about Wisconsin Voter Public Access at vpa.wi.gov.


More ballots needed

Walworth County Clerk Kim Bushey was prepared for Tuesday's heavy voter turnout.


"We are one of the few counties with the ability to print official ballots that can be sent through the optical scanner machines," Bushey said. "If one of our voting precincts runs low on ballots, they can call us. We'll print more ballots for them, and they can pick them up."


The towns of Bloomfield, Linn and Walworth needed 200 additional ballots each, as did the village of Darien. The city of Delavan picked up 300 additional ballots.


"No problem," Bushey said when asked how things were going with the printing of additional ballots.


A leader in voter turnout

The town of Sharon has the least number of registered voters among Walworth County voting precincts at 528. The town may be small (population 902), but it's a leader in voter turnout.


"In 2008, we had 467 voters out of the 528 who are registered," said Town Clerk/Treasurer Karen Teliszczak. "I think we'll have a similar turnout in this recall election."


By 11:25 Tuesday morning, 150 voters had cast ballots with 29 absentee ballots to be entered.


Among Janesville's busiest

More than 2,000 people had voted at Janesville's First Lutheran Church as of 12:45 p.m. Tuesday.


Four wards vote at First Lutheran, which is always among the busiest voting places in the city.


Elections inspector Fred Yoss said lines had been out the door much of the morning.


Yoss guessed turnout would be about 70 percent, which is a lot but not as much as the polling place saw in the 2008 presidential election.


No politics in line

Yoss said poll workers at times had to remind voters not to discuss politics while waiting to vote. Such talk could be construed as electioneering, which is forbidden at the polls.


Also forbidden is political advertising or other electioneering within 100 feet of a poll entrance on public property, so when someone locked a bicycle to the fence next to the entrance to First Lutheran, Yoss was concerned. The bicycle sported two signs opposing Gov. Scott Walker.


The bicycle was there for about an hour, and Yoss was about to take action when the bike's owner appeared, saying she had been attending to business in the building. She said she did not realize she was violating any laws.


County Clerk Stottler said the electioneering ban applies to public property. Nothing can be done about what happens on private property, however, Stottler said.


Bumper stickers on cars in the parking lot are fine, Stottler said.


"But if they've got big signs on their windows and they're there all day, we will ask them to move them."


'This is super great'

More than 730 votes were recorded at Janesville City Hall by 2:30 p.m.


"This is great for us. This is super great," said elections inspector Lynn Meyer.


Meyer said voter registrations also were heavy, similar to a presidential election.


A photographer from Michigan was at City Hall. He hoped to sell his work to the Lansing State Journal and Detroit Free Press. Union issues in the recall election are particularly interesting to union workers on the other side of Lake Michigan, he said.


Unpopular change

Wards 3 and 4 used to vote at Wilson Elementary School. Now, they vote in the Council Chambers on the fourth floor of City Hall, and poll workers don't like it.


Wilson is much easier for elderly residents, they said, because they don't need to take an elevator and don't need to negotiate crossing a busy street.


Poll worker potluck

Meals are an important part of the day for poll workers. Richmond Town Clerk Barb Cease claims to have the best meals in Walworth County.


"We all bring a dish for the potluck," she said. "I know it's the best because the (sheriff's) deputies stop by for lunch."


Quiet day at GOP HQ

The Rock County Republican Party's campaign office in downtown Janesville was quiet Tuesday afternoon, with only four people, if you counted the life-sized cardboard cutout of Mitt Romney.


County party Chairman Jason Mielke said most of his people work during the day, and the party was putting most of its resources into poll watchers and poll workers.


Both parties are allowed to submit lists of poll workers, and members of both parties were noted at the polls around Janesville on Tuesday.


Mielke did have visitors, including TV stations and a Washington Post reporter.


Democrats busy

Democratic Party headquarters a few blocks away was bustling with several dozen workers and deliveries of fast food.


Democratic volunteers were standing at strategic street corners around town, holding signs urging people to vote. Others drove voters to the polls.


Volunteer Vivian Creekmore said that win or lose, she had no regrets because she had worked as hard as she could for this election, and the effort would not go to waste.


The work will stand the party in good stead for the Aug. 14 primaries and Nov. 6 elections, Creekmore said.


Both party organizations planned parties—the fun kind—at downtown establishments Tuesday night.


Vote, then complain

At Carrousel Consignments in downtown Janesville, customers talked all day about the vote, said proprietor Joni Bozart.


Customer Mark Bumpus of Janesville chimed in: "And if you didn't go vote, you don't get to complain."


Gazette reporters Stan Milam, Neil Johnson, Marcia Nelesen and Frank Schultz contributed to this report.

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