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Public Skeptical of Early Voting, Report Finds>

Proposals to allow early voting in Wisconsin elections are running into opposition from members of the public and local officials concerned about the cost and potential for fraud, according to a report discussed Monday.
/ Source: WTMJ-TV and JSOnline.com

Proposals to allow early voting in Wisconsin elections are running into opposition from members of the public and local officials concerned about the cost and potential for fraud, according to a report discussed Monday.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Proposals to allow early voting in Wisconsin elections are running into opposition from members of the public and local officials concerned about the cost and potential for fraud, according to a report discussed Monday.

The Government Accountability Board has been considering whether to switch to early voting instead of the state's current system of no-excuse absentee voting, which caused long lines and headaches for municipal clerks during last year's presidential election.

The current system allows anyone to apply for and cast an absentee ballot, which can't be counted until polls close on the day of the election. But voters had to wait for hours in some cases because the law limits municipalities to one absentee voting location. Clerks were overwhelmed with paperwork as voters applied for and then returned to cast ballots.

Early voting would allow voters to cast ballots up to 20 days before an election directly into machines that would count them immediately. Supporters say it would involve less administrative work and shorter lines because of multiple voting sites while improving voter access.

More than 20 percent of Wisconsin voters, or roughly 500,000, cast absentee ballots in last year's presidential election.

But after 11 listening sessions with the public and local clerks around the state, the board has found a lack of support for early voting at this time, according to a report presented Monday.

"A majority of clerks don't want early voting," board director Kevin Kennedy said.

Clerks are "extremely concerned" about the cost of buying new voting machines to tabulate the ballots, staffing voting locations before an election and other costs associated with adopting early voting, the report said. Clerks say they are already cutting their budgets and services and can't afford to spend more money to run elections, it said.

Richard Stadelman, executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association, said towns receiving state aid cuts of 3.5 percent or more are focused on priorities such as road maintenance and fire and police services. He said any early voting plan should not be "one size fits all" by allowing municipalities to opt out if they choose.

The public has also raised concerns that early voting would make it easier to commit voter fraud, the report said.

Some have urged the board to push back the date for an early voting pilot program, which has been proposed for the April 2010 election. The board will collect more feedback before suggesting in October what early voting options, if any, should be considered.

The report said clerks and other residents have supported the idea of streamlining the current absentee system but disagree on how to do that. Some options include shortening or eliminating the application process.

Studying early voting was a key part of a five-year, $17.3 million strategic plan for Wisconsin elections approved by the board Monday. That plan, which now goes to the Legislature's budget committee, also calls for studying ways to expand voting options such as by mail, phone and the Internet.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)