'I Voted Sticker' (copy) (copy)
PHOTO BY SAIYNA BASHIR

Votes cast in likely Democratic counties account for 56 percent of the early votes cast in Wisconsin, according to a Cap Times analysis of the latest data provided by the state elections commission.

As of Monday morning, 797,740 absentee ballots had been returned throughout the state, according to a Wisconsin Elections Commission report. 

That's a 21 percent increase from 2012. 

Of the ballots returned this year, 444,791 were cast in counties that voted for President Barack Obama in 2012. Counties that voted for Republican Mitt Romney in 2012 accounted for 352,916 of the ballots returned this year, or 44 percent.

The highest-turnout counties for absentee voting were liberal Milwaukee and Dane counties, at 128,492 and 117,714 votes, and conservative Waukesha County, at 88,363 votes. 

Early voting began on Sept. 26 in the cities of Milwaukee and Madison. The city of Waukesha began offering in-person absentee voting nearly one month later, on Oct. 24.

Municipalities were able to expand early voting hours and locations this year because of a lawsuit filed by the liberal group One Wisconsin Institute. Federal Judge James Peterson in July overturned laws that limited in-person absentee voting to one location, limited early voting hours and eliminated weekend voting.

The 2013 law signed by Gov. Scott Walker limiting hours for in-person absentee voting "intentionally discriminates on the basis of race," Peterson ruled.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week the Legislature will "probably have to" revisit the state's early voting laws to make voting more uniform across rural and urban areas. 

"These record numbers show that voters vote when given the opportunity to vote," said One Wisconsin Institute executive director Scot Ross in a statement. "And expanded early voting makes it easier and more convenient than ever for legal voters to participate in our democracy."

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The majority of absentee ballots cast this year were done in person, according to the elections commission. Of the 828,248 total absentee ballots issued this year, 650,782 were cast in person.

The last day for in-person absentee voting was Friday in most cities, with a few continuing through Saturday and Sunday. Mail-in absentee ballots must be returned to clerks’ offices or polling places by Tuesday to be counted. 

Michael Haas, the state's chief elections official, said the record-breaking absentee voting numbers don't necessarily predict higher overall turnout.

"A number of factors may be contributing to this year’s higher absentee turnout, but the long term trend has been toward increasing use of absentee voting both by mail and in clerks’ offices," Haas said in a statement.

The elections commission is predicting 3.1 million people will vote in Tuesday's election, or 70 percent of the state's voting-age population.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.