JEFFERSON — Jefferson County electors were seeing a different style of ballot when they went to the polls today, and it was no April Fool’s joke.
Today’s contest marks the first time that the county’s new voting machines were in use, after the county officially switched one year ago.
Jefferson County adopted the touchscreen DS200 scanners last spring to replace the former OPTECH machines that had been in use since 1996.
The new machines necessitate a slight change in the voting process, as well. Instead of connecting a line to cast their vote, voters instead were filling in a bubble next to their ballot choice.
Although today was the first time the machines see a live test, Jefferson County Clerk Barbara Frank said on Monday that she anticipated everything to run smoothly.
“We bought the systems at the same time as La Crosse County, Dane County and Brown County,” said Frank. ““This is our first election on them, where the other counties all had February primaries.”
Frank noted that the counties have been working together for training and sharing information back and forth, and adoption in other areas has gone very well. However, support technicians for the machine were present in the county on Monday to work with clerks, and also were available today should any questions arise.
Voter turnout was expected to be well above the state average across Jefferson County, with six referenda on the ballot in addition to the usual contested races.
“They said statewide, they’re expecting 12 percent, and I would think we’re going to exceed that,” she said. “I can’t imagine us being below 20.”
The average voter turnout for a spring election in Jefferson County during the past four years has varied anywhere from 18 percent to 43 percent.
Frank said Monday that the county’s municipal clerks already were busy processing absentee ballots mailed in prior to Election Day. Changes in the state’s election procedures made this process a bit more labor intensive than in previous years.
“If you overvote, we are not allowed to accept that ballot anymore. We used to accept ballots and just not count anything for the overvoted contest. Now it gets rejected and the voter has to remake it,” said Frank. “So if somebody does it by absentee, then the pollworker will have to remake that ballot without that contest in it, because we have no way to determine voter intent on those ones.”
This morning in Fort Atkinson, educators were lining up at the polls early to cast ballots, likely on a $1.75 million School District of Fort Atkinson operational referendum.
The referendum, if passed, will have no estimated property tax increases over the next three years. It will allow the district — other than a first-year $339,000 of recurring reductions — to maintain the majority of the programs and services it currently provides students and families.
School officials have stated that due to the below-inflation increases in revenue from the state, a failed referendum would mean the district will face up to $1.2 million in reductions the first year and more than $800,000 in further reductions annually for the next three years.
Several of the first several dozen voters at 7 a.m. in Fort Atkinson were district employees.
“This election drew me early because of the school referendum,” noted Angela Szabo, an art teacher at Fort Atkinson High School. “I think it is really important to maintain our programming for our kids and for our future so we have a strong community moving forward with educated students and they have the programming that they need.”
Another teacher noted that it was important for the children that the referendum passes.
Acting City Manager/City Clerk Matt Trebatoski said he anticipated a good turnout in the city, with people being drawn to the polls particularly by the School District of Fort Atkinson referendum.
“It would be nice to get a good turnout,” he said.
In addition to the School District of Fort Atkinson’s referendum, the School District of Johnson Creek was also holding its fifth building referendum since 1999. It was asking electors for $18.9 million to build a five-dome school for grades 5-12 on district-owned property along County Highway B. The cost translates to an estimated annual tax increase of $2.49 per $1,000 equalized valuation, amounting to a dollar a day for the owner of a property valued at $150,000.
Village of Johnson Creek Clerk Joan Dykstra said she expected the referendum question to bring voters to the polls in a steady stream throughout the day.
“We expect a really wonderful turnout. It’s been busy all morning,” she said. “There were people in line waiting to vote at 7 this morning.”
In addition, she said her staff already had processed about 175 absentee ballots ahead of Election Day.
Meanwhile, in the Town of Farmington, most of which lies within the School District of Johnson Creek’s boundaries, voters were slow to turnout this morning. Clerk Tami Latsch said only 20 voters had cast ballots over an hour after the polls opened Tuesday.
In the City of Lake Mills, voters were being asked whether the city should switch from its council/city manager form of government to a mayor/city council system. The binding referendum is the result of a campaign by a group of citizens who claim that accountability and vision are lacking in local government.
Also in the City of Lake Mills, as well as the Town of Waterloo, was a referendum asking voters whether they support amending the U.S. Constitution to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. Specifically, it seeks to abolish the concept of “corporate personhood” granted in 2010 by the court, which stated that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. Second, it states that the notion of “money is not free speech” needs to be part of campaign finance reform to prevent wealthy individuals or other nonprofit, noncorporate groups or unions from continuing to bankroll elections in hopes of getting their way.
City Clerk Elizabeth Milbrath said approximately 115 voters had cast ballots by 8:30 a.m., results she would call typical of a spring general election.
In addition, residents of the School District of Kettle Moraine, which includes portions of Waukesha and Jefferson counties, were asked to consider a $49.6 million referendum for the purpose of capital maintenance needs.
The referendum dollars address needs in six school buildings. It will support improvements to capital maintenance, technology infrastructure, safety and security and learning spaces. District officials estimate the referendum to have a property impact of 44 cents per $1,000 of equalized valuation.
Around the county, a variety of races were on the ballot today.
Everyone in Jefferson County was to vote on the Branch 3 judge for Jefferson County Circuit Court. Incumbent David Wambach, whom Gov. Scott Walker appointed upon the retirement of Judge Jacqueline Erwin, was seeking his first full term on the bench.
The former prosecutor was being challenged by Jefferson’s Joann Miller, a private practice attorney specializing in family and children law who also serves as municipal judge for the City of Jefferson, Village of Johnson Creek and Towns of Sumner and Aztalan.
In addition, everyone was to be casting a ballot for the District 4 state Court of Appeals judge. Gary E. Sherman, who was appointed to that post in 2010, is unopposed in his re-election effort.
Jefferson County Board of Supervisors members all were up for election, but contested races were taking place in only six of the 30 districts.
Incumbent Jim Mode was being challenged by Frankie Fuller in District 20, incumbent George Jaeckel by Tim Griep in District 23; incumbent Glen Borland by Robert Bennett in District 27, incumbent and county board Chairperson John Molinaro by Laura Payne in District 16, and incumbent Carl Zentner by James Jorgenson in District 26. In District 14, Kirk Lund and Rex Weston were facing off for the seat being vacated by Pam Rogers.
There are a variety of town, village, city and school board elections on the ballot, as well. Among the contested ones is the three-way bid for two seats on the School District of Fort Atkinson Board of Education by incumbent Rodger Thomann and newcomers Vicky Hachtel and Collin Maas. Contested school board races also were being held in the Waterloo and Watertown school districts.
Among village boards of trustees, John Swisher, Kyle Ellefson, Kelly Woll schlager and Fred Albertz were vying for three seats in Johnson Creek, while five candidates — Frank Kostopoulos, Donald Agen, Cindy Bontempo, David Cox and William Lurvey — were competing for three positions in the Village of Palmyra.
The City of Whitewater has a contested race between incumbent Lynn Binnie and newcomer Paul Yvarra to represent District 4 on the Whitewater Common Council. That district is in the Walworth County side of town.
In the Town of Koshkonong, incumbent Curt Backlund was being challenged by Jonathan Kooiman for his supervisor IV seat on the town board of supervisors.
All polling places throughout Jefferson County close their doors at 8 p.m.