Absentee votes are breaking record numbers in Madison. Following the Kerry rally today, they may break new ground.

The Kerry-Edwards campaign recently reported it will publicly encourage the thousands at the Kerry rally to vote absentee following the event. This prompted a quick decision from the city to extend the city clerk’s office hours until 8 p.m. Thursday night.

The clerk’s office has normal hours from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. There will be additional open hours on Friday and Monday until 5 p.m. and the office will also be open on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“We were told by the Kerry campaign that they are going to tell 60,000 people to vote absentee on Thursday,” Communications Director for the mayor Melanie Conklin said. “We have to accommodate that or turn the voters away.”

According to Conklin, the Republican Party was upset with the action to keep the office open later. Conklin called the longer hours a non-partisan measure.

“If George Bush was sending voters our way, we would be accommodating them,” Conklin said. “It’s democracy. The duty of the city and the mayor is to make sure every citizen who wants to vote has the chance to do so by Nov. 2.”

Dane County Clerk Joe Parisi said the extended clerk’s office hours are legitimate.

“The Bush people can do that too, they have the same opportunity,” Parisi said. According to Parisi, the clerk’s office is doing a good job handling the possible increase in absentee voters under the circumstances.

“The clerk’s office is seeing influx of people like they’ve never seen before,” he added.

Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, who was a participant in the city planning activities for the Kerry rally, said the office will stay open if people are in line on any day.

“The office is being kept open to cast ballots, period. Regardless of political persuasion, we’re letting the community know that the office will officially stay open,” Verveer said. “It was inspired by [the] Kerry-Edwards campaign; it is going to encourage people attending the huge rally to turn around and go to [the] city county building to cast [a] vote and get it out of the way.”

During other large elections the city clerk’s office similarly opens on Saturday and extends hours, he added.

The campaign also applied for and received a street use permit to close parking and traffic on Martin Luther King Drive outside the City County Building, where the clerk’s office resides. According to Verveer, the campaign encouraged food cart vendors from Library Mall and the Capitol Square to vend in this area.

There will also be a small stage for musical entertainment.

“Indeed this is a strategy to get [rally attendees] to vote early but the extended hours will allow anyone to vote early,” Verveer said.

Regarding the street closure permit, any political campaign or group could have applied for usage.

Conklin said she knew of some Kerry supporters in Illinois who were planning to attend the rally to support their candidate.

“It’s drawing people from all over the place,” Conklin said. “People are voting and that’s what we as a city want, we’re looking at record voter turnouts this year and that’s exciting.”

The record numbers of absentee ballots are coming in due to both nationwide interest in the election and shuttle vans sending people from Memorial Union to the City County Building to vote absentee, according to Verveer.

Conklin said the line to cast an absentee ballot on Wednesday was winding out towards the front door and down the hallway, one of the longest lines she has seen.

Similarly, Parisi said he is expecting at least a quarter of a million voters to head to the polls Tuesday, approximately 75 percent of the eligible voter population.

“I’m expecting at least that much, at least,” Parisi said. “I think we could easily have more. The potential is certainly there.”

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