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Wisconsin Reps, Dems: Vote Now, Volunteer Later

This story was written by Carl Jaeger, Badger Herald

Amid fears of votes being cast before campaigning has come to a close, representatives of both political parties in Wisconsin are sending a different message: Vote early and then volunteer.

The more people you can turn out before Election Day, the more you can focus your resources and your time and effort on getting other people to the polls, said Kirsten Kukowski, communications director for the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

Matthew Lehrich, deputy communications director for Wisconsins Obama campaign, said Democrats have similar motives.

The No. 1 thing that we look to do with pushing the early vote is to make sure people are available to volunteer on Election Day and get their friends to the polls, Lehrich said.

City clerk offices around the state are reporting significant increases in the number of absentee ballots cast in comparison to the 2004 presidential election, and there is no sign things will slow down before Nov. 4.

While 25,000 Wisconsin voters opted to submit absentee ballots for the 2004 presidential election, state election officials said for the current election, that number has been or will soon be surpassed.

Many people are going directly to the city clerks office where they can get an absentee ballot and vote there at the same time, and were seeing lines particularly in Madison, said Nat Robinson, Election Division administrator for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.

Robinson said he believes two factors are driving voters to vote early, including particularly high voter interest and the desire to skip long Election Day lines.

Despite Wisconsin laws that allow voters to register at the polls on Election Day, Robinson said the accountability board has been stressing that waiting until Nov. 4 is not necessary.

Weve been pleading with the voting public for the last couple of months; its part of our mantra, to get registered early to vote, he said, adding this election will have one of the highest turnouts many people have ever seen.

But though both campaigns are pushing early voting, the way they are going about it is quite different.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin sent absentee request forms to eligible Wisconsin voters last month, as well as a series of mailers and automated calls intended to target people by issue to get them to the polls, Kukowski said.

Election clerks are overwhelmed with work, and that shows that were doing our jobs and were getting people to send in their absentee ballots, she said. Theyre getting a flood of absentee ballots in and theyre working long hours and theyre overwhelmed, and we think thats a sign that what were doing is working.

By targeting voters who are already onboard, the campaign is able to focus additional effort on getting other voters to the polls on Election Day, Kukowski said.

Focusing more on raising voter awareness, Wisconsins Obama campaign has hosted a series of events across the state with national politicians and celebrities spreading the word on the benefits of early voting.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, held a series of Vote Early for Change rallies across the state Oct. 14, concluding on the steps of the state Capitol in Madison. After the event, voters marched to the Madison City Clerks Office to cast their absentee ballots.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., will continue a tour of college campuses today, where he is also encouraging supporters to vote early. Other early vote events the campaign has held across the state included stops from, among others, singer Carole King and television actor Adam Brody.

Despite speakers, mailings and automated phone calls, Robinson said he believes many Wisconsin voters decided to avoid the polls on Election Day independently.

I think that people were listening to the news and they do believe that because Wisconsin is traditionally a high turnout state, Nov. 4 is going to be even a higher turnout, he said. I suspect that many of them on their own said, I want to get out of the fray.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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