Voting In Wisconsin: New Rules Make It Easier

Renee Montagne talks to Shawn Johnson of Wisconsin Public Radio about voting in a swing precinct that went for President Obama in 2008 and Republican Gov. Scott Walker in the 2012 recall election. Wisconsin has new rules in place that make it easier to vote.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan cast his vote in his home state of Wisconsin this morning. To learn more about voting in that battleground state on this Election Day, we reached Shawn Johnson of Wisconsin Public Radio. He's in the town of Middleton, just outside the state capital, Madison. Good morning.

SHAWN JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Well, tell us a little about Middleton - partly what the scene is there, but also what kind of place is it?

JOHNSON: Yeah, well I'm speaking to you from outside the town, Middleton's town hall where there's a light snow falling right now. And this is a place that's surrounded by a mixture of farm fields, old farmhouses, and new housing developments. And, you know, when you talk about swing states, I think you could probably, safely call this a swing ward. This is a polling place that, in 2012, in a recall election in Wisconsin, supported Republican Governor Scott Walker. But in 2008, it supported Democratic President Barack Obama. So this is a ward that can go either way, given the election.

MONTAGNE: OK, so aptly named, perhaps, Middleton. Now, how much has early voting and absentee ballots played a role there in the state of Wisconsin.

JOHNSON: In the state of Wisconsin, in 2008, there were about one in five ballots cast absentee, early ballots cast in Wisconsin. And there's a chance that we could hit that again this year, even though the window for early voting was closed a little bit.

Here at this polling place in particular, one thing you're struck by when you're inside is there are about two dozen poll workers. Half of them are greeting new voters as they come in the door. The other half are dealing with absentee ballots that were sent in over the past couple of weeks. That's a process they say is going to take them until late this afternoon. And here, they might actually get 50 percent of their ballots cast early absentee.

MONTAGNE: So, now, Wisconsin also has new rules in place that make it easier to vote. Tell us a little bit about that.

JOHNSON: Well, you can register same day at the polls, here. And that's something that we've had for quite a while. The thing that's new this year is that you can use your smartphone to register. So you can go in, and to prove who you are or that you live in the voting district, you can show poll workers an electronic copy of a utility bill, for example. So that's a first in Wisconsin. But in terms of same-day registration, that's something we've had for a while. The poll workers here, at least, haven't seen many electronic documents being used to register.

MONTAGNE: But have you - you're not seeing, then, people registering at the precinct just before they vote.

JOHNSON: You are. You are. And you've seen almost a couple dozen people do that here. But...

MONTAGNE: Just not with their smartphones.

JOHNSON: Just not with their smartphone, just using more conventional means of registering, like paper.

MONTAGNE: Right. So just to touch on - but what, briefly, is the turnout like?

JOHNSON: The turnout's been, you know, fairly heavy here if you, you know, blend in those absentee votes. And just statewide, we're looking at potentially three million votes cast, which would be about 70 percent of our voting-age population. That would be among the highest turnout elections in Wisconsin history, and it would definitely put us up there among the highest turnout states.

MONTAGNE: Shawn, thanks very much.

JOHNSON: Thanks for having me.

MONTAGNE: Shawn Johnson is a reporter with Wisconsin Public Radio, giving us the view on this Election Day from Middleton, Wisconsin.

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