Absentee voting strong in Wis. as deadline nears
MADISON Absentee voting remained robust across Wisconsin with Friday's deadline to cast ballots in person approaching and both presidential candidates stressing early voting in the waning days of the campaign.
More than 412,000 people had either requested absentee ballots or voted early at clerks' offices through Wednesday, the state's elections board reported Thursday.
It's impossible to know how that compares with the same point four years ago, when 20 percent of people voted absentee. Comparable numbers from 2008 are not available from the Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections.
In 2008, 633,610 absentee ballots were cast. Of those requested so far this year, 256,277 were in person at clerks' offices and 156,334 were by mail and other methods. Final absentee numbers for this year won't be compiled until after the election.
Both presidential campaigns have said they are ahead in early voting efforts in targeted counties. But because voters don't register by party in Wisconsin and don't have to say whether they are Republican or Democrat when requesting absentee ballots, it's difficult to know which side is actually doing better.
A Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday indicated that Democrats were outperforming Republicans in early voting.
Of the 10 percent of survey respondents who said they had already voted, 56 percent said they voted for Obama and 36 percent said they voted for Romney. In the U.S. Senate race, 52 percent voted for Democrat Tammy Baldwin and 36 percent for Republican Tommy Thompson.
Among all likely voters polled, Obama led Romney 51 percent to 43 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.
In another good sign for Democrats, early voting in Milwaukee County was on pace to be stronger than four years ago when Barack Obama carried the county with 67 percent of the vote.
Milwaukee Election Commission executive director Neil Albrecht predicts that between 47,000 and 49,000 absentee ballots will be requested in the county, up from the 45,000 cast in 2008. Through Wednesday, more than 39,000 had been requested.
There was another long line Thursday morning outside the election clerk's office in Democrat-heavy Madison. Retired phone company worker and Obama supporter Jerry Kennedy was one of the first ones in line before the doors opened at 8 a.m. He said he wanted to vote early to "get 'er done."
"I actually came out yesterday but the line was too long," he said.
In Republican-heavy Waukesha County near Milwaukee, Romney supporter Randy Vogler voted on Wednesday to make sure he got his ballot in.
"You never know what tomorrow holds," he said.
In Green Bay, which is one of the swing parts of the state, city clerk Kris Teske said early voting this year was on pace to surpass 2008 totals. She said 4,235 ballots had been cast in the clerk's office as of Thursday afternoon, and another 3,963 had come by mail. The total of 8,198 ballots was just behind the 2008 total of 8,335 ballots cast in the clerk's office or by mail.
There was only a 12-day window for early in-person voting this year. Republicans in control of the Legislature passed a law last year shortening the window from the nearly four weeks it was in 2008.
Chris Robinson of Green Bay cast his ballot Thursday for Romney. Robinson also said he voted early because he's booked up with meetings on Election Day and teaches a class that evening.
Wisconsin remains in the crosshairs in the final days of the presidential race as Romney likely needs to win its 10 electoral votes if he can't take Ohio, where polls show Obama ahead. Obama also was emphasizing Wisconsin's importance, with three visits planned over five days.
Obama campaigned Thursday in Green Bay, and former President Bill Clinton was in Waukesha. Obama planned to return to the state two more times before the election. Once on Saturday for an appearance with pop star Katy Perry in Milwaukee and then for a final rally Monday with Bruce Springsteen in Madison.
Springsteen was last in Madison for a campaign rally in 2004 when he appeared in late October with Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. That rally attracted 80,000 people. Last month, without any opening act, Obama drew 30,000 on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Romney planned to campaign Friday in West Allis, a Milwaukee suburb. Vice President Joe Biden also was slated to make appearances Friday in Beloit and Superior.