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April 2014

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New law may beg the question: To absentee, or not to absentee?

New absentee voting law could mean waiting in line

A new state law limits the time residents can head to their local polling place to submit an absentee ballot. Starting Monday, you can vote absentee at your polling for convenience and to beat the long lines on election day. However, if you wait until the last day before absentee voting closes, you could end up waiting in line.

Oconomowoc City Clerk Diane Coenen is working to spread the word about the new state law, which only allows in-person absentee voting from Monday, Oct. 22 through 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2. She said anyone who has stopped at City Hall so far has been able to vote absentee through mail. They fill out an application and a ballot is mailed to them that must be returned by Friday. There is no cost to vote absentee through mail if mailing within the U.S.; the city covers postage both ways, Coenen said.

"People have been calling, emailing and coming in and filling out an application for a ballot. Then we mail it to them. We're also letting them know that starting Monday they can come to City Hall from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to cast their vote here at City Hall," said Coenen.

Because of the higher turnout for presidential elections, Coenen said she has established a system to deal with any rush of absentee voters starting Monday. She's essentially created a mini polling place with poll worker volunteers who will assist in the process.

Coenen said that during the last presidential election, the city had about 3,000 absentee voters. During the gubernatorial recall, the city saw 1,600 cast absentee ballots. Coenen said Tuesday that the city has had 866 absentee requests, and there are 305 registered voters in nursing homes and senior communities who will vote absentee. "If we hit the 3,000 mark, which is my gauge from the last presidential election, that would mean just under 2,000 would come through City Hall in the next couple weeks," Coenen said.

"I just want the public to know it's only a two-week time frame. They might need to expect to wait in line," if they plan to absentee vote in person, she said.

Town of Oconomowoc Clerk Jo Ann Lesser said she hopes people will be patient with the process that may cause absentee voters to wait. But so far, she said, most people who have come in and learned about the new law, have been cooperative.

"Once we explain the new rule, we just offer the mailing option to them, and most have taken that, but a few said they would wait until the 22nd," said Lesser.

She said there's still time to request a mail ballot and avoid the potential lines. She suggested writing on plain white paper the date of the election, name and address with a signature, and the town can mail an absentee ballot.

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