Primary brings some questions, area clerks find
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WALWORTH COUNTY To TV viewers, this year may seem like one long string of campaign commercials.
To local municipal clerks, it’s been more like a string of challenging changes: a voter ID law that’s been hung up in the courts, redistricting maps that have shifted boundaries and added more legislative primaries than usual, and the state’s first partisan primary in August since World War II — set to comply with federal law giving military personnel and overseas voters enough time to vote by absentee ballot.
So far in 2012, voters have headed to the polls four times — a February 21 primary, an April 3 spring election, a May 8 recall primary and a June 5 recall election--and will be there twice more before the year's end.
“With the number of elections we’ve had so far, hopefully people are aware of some of the changes this year,” said Michael Hawes, Lake Geneva’s city clerk.
The August 14 election isn’t exactly a change — partisan primaries have been around since the 1900s — but voters should recognize the difference.
Next Tuesday, in both of the two polling places in Lake Geneva — the city hall and the fire station — as in polls across the state, notices will be posted from Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board telling voters that in a partisan primary, they can only vote for candidates of one party. Voters will also get reminders from poll workers when they're handed their ballots.
The GAB website calls confusion over crossover voting one of the biggest issues poll workers face in primaries.
Barbara Fischer, treasurer and town clerk for the township of Lafayette, said the confusion is understandable.
“The rest of the year, you vote for whatever candidate you want, so typically, people don’t realize in this election they can’t vote in two parties,” she said. “This year there’s a new feature — a stop sign (on the ballot) when you get to the end of the political party (preference section), and I’m hoping that might draw attention, but our poll workers will definitely explain the process to people.”
If voters designate a party preference on their ballot and then cast a vote for a candidate in another party, only those votes cast of the candidates in the designated party will count.
If voters don’t designate a party preference, and vote for candidates of more than one party, none of their votes will be counted — and the vote-counting machine will reject the ballot.
Voters are allowed up to three new ballots if they make mistakes.
“There are a lot of spoiled ballots on this election where people cross over and their vote doesn’t go through,” Fischer said. “I’ll hear, ‘I can’t believe I did that.’ We tell them, ‘You aren’t the first and you won’t be the last.’”
Susan Kitzman, Delavan's city clerk, expects some voters to balk at the partisan primary, but poll workers are patient.
"You'll get a voter who says, 'I always cross over when I vote,'" she said. "And I'll smile and tell them, 'Wow, it's been the law in Wisconsin since 1902. You look really good for your age.'"
Other voters may be confused about who is — or isn’t -- on the ballot. Independent candidates won’t be included on August's ballot, but will be in November.
And redistricting has put some legislators on ballots in newly formed districts.
“The redistricting was covered by our local newspaper during the spring election, so we think voters will be educated on their news districts,” Hawes said. “But voter identification is still causing some confusion.”
Two separate judges issued injunctions on March 6 and March 12 against the photo ID requirements legislation of 2011. The Wisconsin Department of Justice has appealed those injunctions, and the appeals have been certified to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which on April 16 sent them back to the respective Courts of Appeals. So for now, voters don’t need to show a photo ID to vote.
Even more than voter ID laws or redistricting, it's absentee ballots that are generating calls to the Walworth County clerk's office, said Susie Pike, Walworth County deputy clerk.
Pike said the questions include 'If my ballot is postmarked on election day, does it count?' and 'If I have an absentee ballot, but decide I want to go to the polls on election day, can I?'
The answer to the first question, incidentally, is yes--absentee ballots must be postmarked by election day and received in the municipal clerk's office by 4 p.m. the Friday following the election. The answer to the second question varies by circumstances; poll workers must follow GAB guidelines in determining whether or not the voter can still vote at the polling place.
The GAB website is predicting a turnout of about 20 percent for the August primary.
"In our township, we'll be lucky to have 20 to 25 percent," Fischer said. "But sometimes something like the district attorney race brings them out. So you never know."
Need a little help?
Election officials suggest a few websites to help voters get ready for next Tuesday. The Walworth County clerk's office recommends the Government Accountability Board website for information on everything from who the candidates are in particular districts to election results dating back to 2000. The Wisconsin State Legislature website is also particularly helpful to voters who want to know whether their district has changed; see their resdistricting page with current maps.
Michael Hawes, Lake Geneva's city clerk, recommends the Voter Public Access page of the GAB website. "It's a good, one-stop check on most things voters would need to know, including whether they're registered and where their polling place is located," he said.
Voters can also check with their municipality's website; many are often updated with voter information. For a listing of websites and staff directories in Walworth County, see municipality page on the Walworth County website.