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At U. Wisconsin, Students Register In Battleground State, Locals Vote Absentee

This story was written by Becky Vevea, Badger Herald

Though he attends college in the nations capital, Daniel Tonellato made a conscious decision this summer to apply for an absentee ballot in Wisconsin because he knew it would be close presidential race.

A native of Shorewood, Wis., a northern suburb of Milwaukee, and a junior at George Washington University, Tonellato applied for an absentee ballot at the local village hall partly because he wanted to vote in the state congressional election but also because Wisconsin has more electoral votes than Washington.

People say its a battleground state, Tonellato said, adding he doesnt think it will be as close as he thought.

Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said this year they have already taken in over 16,000 absentee ballots, 5,000 of which have been filled out at the office during the early voting process. We have sent quite a few ballots to college students in New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota and other states as well, Witzel-Behl said.

Records for absentee ballots from students who grew up in Wisconsin but go to school out of state are not kept Witzel-Behl said, partly because for each election year there is usually a different person processing these ballots. But Tonellatos decision to vote absentee can work the opposite way with several University of Wisconsin students.

New Jersey native and UW senior Olivia Rosenberg is voting in her first presidential election and considered voting absentee in New Jersey but decided because it is a very Democratic state, she would register in Wisconsin.

My vote would have a lot more influence in this state, Rosenberg said, adding if New Jersey were a battleground state she would have to look to see which one had a closer race.

Over the past two weeks, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama surged ahead in the polls in Wisconsin, voiding the states battleground status.

But Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said the nation should still keep an eye on Wisconsin.

While it doesnt appear right now that it will be as close, you never know, Cieslewicz said. Young voters could determine the outcome of this election, he added, saying, the student vote could literally have put John Kerry across the finish line.

Rules for voter registration vary from state to state, making it less stressful for students like Tonellato who go to school in a different state to vote absentee.

With Wisconsin, this is not the case. If you are a student here from out of state, youre right to vote should not be lessened, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk said. We try to make it possible to vote, but you can choose to vote back at home by mail. Its the students choice.

Rosenberg said she is glad she has the option to decide where she wants her vote counted and it should not be a problem either way. As a student I really do believe you should have an option to vote in the state that you live in or the state your parents live in, Rosenberg said. As long as each person has one vote.

With expected record-breaking voter turnout, especially among young voters, the choice made by out-of-state students may or may not have an effect on the election. Witzel-Behl said she does not think it will have a great effect in overall numbers, but in cases like Tonellatos, choosing to vote in a swing state with a substantial number of electoral votes could be worth the time it takes to get an absentee ballot.

The process for obtaining an absentee ballot can take a few minutes, but for mail-in applicants, getting voting absentee requires a certain timeline. It takes you thinking ahead, Falk said. It does take some extra thought and effort.

But students like Rosenberg lucked ot because the registration process in Wisconsin is one of the easiest states to register in, Cieslewicz said, including how it allows people to register right at the polls.

Despite several rumors, UW students from out of state should find registering to vote in Wisconsin an easy process, Witzel-Behl said. Any UW student is eligible to vote in Madison without jeopardizing their insurance, scholarships or financial aid. All they need is to provide a proof of residence.

UW Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Aaron Brower said he and UW Provost Pat Farrell sent an e-mail to faculty and staff asking them to remind students of the importance of voting and to dispel any rumors or myths about out-of-state students registering.

Theres nothing that makes you feel more patriotic than voting, Brower said. You might be surprised about how good it feels afterwards.