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2016 Elections: Everything You Need To Know

everything you needElections are not the only part of making a better world, but they have a powerful influence on all of our daily lives. They can seem complicated, but we hope to make it easy to understand so that everyone who can vote, does vote. Below are answers to common questions, links to other resources, and images you can share on social media.

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You have the right to leave work to vote2016 election datesvoters-with-feloniesphoto id graphicSome of the FAQs below include additional graphics available for sharing. Click on a category to read the Q&As:

THE BASICS
ELECTIONS
REGISTERING TO VOTE
VOTING & PHOTO ID
ELECTED OFFICIALS AND OFFICES

The Basics

Why should I vote?

What is a political party?

What does “race” mean in election lingo?

What do they mean by “the polls” or a “polling place”?

Voting seems confusing and intimidating. Where do I start?
Elections

What is a primary election?

What are the 2016 election day dates?

Why should I vote in all these elections when the only one that matters is the presidential race in November?

Registering to Vote

Who is eligible to vote in Wisconsin?

What does registering to vote even mean?

Do I have to register to vote every time there’s an election?

How do I register to vote?

I can’t remember if I’m registered to vote. How can I check?

I’m homeless. How do I register to vote?

I moved since the last time I voted. What do I need to do?

The registration form says I must provide my WI driver’s license number if I have a current and valid one, but I can’t find my license. What should I do?

Voting

It’s election day and don’t know if I registered to vote or not. Can I still vote?

Where do I go vote and what should I bring?

What does ‘early voting’ and ‘absentee voting’ mean?

Do I need to bring a special Voter ID Card?

Since I need to show a photo ID to vote, what qualifies as an acceptable ID?

What else do I need to know about the photo ID law?

I have a felony conviction. Can I vote?

I have a disability and it is difficult for me to go places. What can I do?

I have to work on election day. How I can vote?

I will be out of town or unable to vote on election day. How can I vote?

How do I find out what races will be on my ballot?

Elected Officials

I don’t know enough about all the candidates on my ballot. How can I find out more about them?

As a resident of Wisconsin, how many people represent me at the state (Madison) and federal (Washington DC) levels?

What is the difference between a state senator and a U.S. senator?

What is a state representative, and how are they different from a state senator?

What is the difference between a U.S. representative and a U.S. senator?

What about my local level elected officials? How many are there and who are they?

Did we miss anything? If you have a question that isn’t answered here, email us at info @ wisconsinjobsnow.org and let us know. You can also call the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board at 1-866-VOTE-WIS (1-866-868-3947).

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Why should I vote?
There’s lots of reasons to vote. One that’s crucial is that the more that people in similar communities vote, the less likely their communities are to be ignored by the people who make the laws.

A report from Demos puts it like this: the needs of lower-voting populations are almost entirely ignored in elections and policymaking, in no small part because they are missing at the polls. Thus, clearly and urgently, we need to close the voting gaps to ensure greater balance in electoral and policy outcomes, so that all Americans, not just affluent white Americans, may enjoy the fruits of democracy.  

Another reason to vote is that the people we put in office are constantly making decisions that impact all of our daily lives, whether we know it or not. It’s important to make sure those people are the ones we choose, not the ones that we let others choose for us.
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What is a political party?
A political party is an organized group of people with similar political opinions who work together to win elections. Political parties compete against one another for political power and the ability to influence and pass public policy. In the United States, the two most prominent political parties are the Democratic and Republican parties. Besides those two, there are lots of other parties that many people identify with.
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What does “race” mean in election lingo?
Essentially, elections are contests between multiple people who all want the same job. Each contest is called a race.
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What do they mean by”the polls” or a “polling place”?
The word “poll” has multiple definitions. One is a survey that campaigns use to find out what the public thinks of them or issues. When talking about election day, “the polls” or “polling place” is where people go to vote. “When you go to the polls” is another way of saying “when you go vote.”
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Voting seems confusing and intimidating. Where do I start?
1. Read through all the resources on this page.
2. Get registered to vote.
3. Make sure you have an acceptable photo ID. You’ll need to bring it with you when you vote.
4. Learn about the candidates and where they stand on the issues that matter to you.
5. Have a voting plan in place before election day. Where is your polling place? How will you get there? How long will it take? If you have kids, will you bring them? These are factors you need to consider. And be sure to tell your employer at least a day in advance that you need off if you have to vote during working hours.
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What is a primary election?
There are two main types of elections: primaries and generals.

Primary: A primary is an election that happens before the general. Think of them as the “semi-finals.” The goal of a primary election is to narrow the field of candidates that voters will have to choose from during the general election. Though the primary elections don’t determine the final result, they are one of the most important parts of an election. The winners of the primary elections run against each other in the general election.
General: The election where the winner of the race is finally chosen.

Wisconsin has important rules about primary elections. Read about them here.
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What are the 2016 election day dates?
1. February 16: voters will select the top 2 candidates for Wisconsin Supreme Court and for any local and county races with more than 2 contenders.
2.  April 5: we will elect the final winner for those contests, and vote in the presidential primary.
3. August 9: the fall partisan primary for U.S. Congress and the Wisconsin state legislature.
4. November 8: we will elect the next president, and our state and federal representatives.
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Why should I vote in all these elections when the only one that matters is the presidential race in November?
Local politics matter! While choosing the next president is important, the president has to work with 535 different Congresspeople from all 50 states. Who the Congresspeople are from your state is determined by your vote.

The president doesn’t determine how much money to invest in your neighborhood’s public school or what the minimum wage in Wisconsin should be. The president doesn’t decide how much of the county budget is devoted to public safety or public transit. If your street needs a stoplight, you don’t call the president. There are lots of local issues decided by local elected officials.
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Who is eligible to vote in Wisconsin?

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-To vote in Wisconsin, you must be a U.S. citizen and be 18 years old by the next election day. If you have a felony conviction, you are eligible to vote once you are no longer on probation or parole (also known as being “off papers”).
-You must be a resident of your current address for 28 days.
-Voters who have moved within Wisconsin less than 28 days before the election must vote using their previous address, either by absentee ballot or at the polling place.
-Voters who have moved to Wisconsin from another state less than 28 days before an election are only eligible to vote in Presidential elections.
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What does registering to vote even mean?
Registering to vote means to officially add your name to the list of people who want to vote. You must be registered to vote in order to vote. Registering to vote doesn’t mean you are required to vote, it just means you can if you want to.
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Do I have to register to vote every time there’s an election?
No. You only have to re-register to vote if you have moved or changed your name since you last registered. You also have to re-register if you haven’t voted in the last 4 years.
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How do I register to vote?

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There are four ways you can register to vote. No matter which one you choose, a proof of residence
document is always needed when registering to vote in Wisconsin. For more information on what qualifies as proof of residence, click here. If you aren’t sure your document will be accepted, call your municipal clerk or 1-866-VOTE-WIS.

1. In-Person: You can register at your local municipal clerk’s office. To find where that is, search your address on this page and then scroll down to “Municipal Clerk Contact Information.” You can call them to find out what hours they are open. Remember, make sure you bring a proof of residence with you. The last day to register in-person is the Friday before the election.

If you live in the city of Milwaukee, your clerk’s office is in City Hall, 200 E. Wells, Room 501. If you have questions, you can call them at 414-286-3491.

2. By Mail: You can also register to vote by mail no later than 20 days before the election. Fill out this form carefully, print it out, sign it, and mail it to your municipal clerk’s office. Be sure to include a photocopy of your Proof of Residence. If you have trouble filling out the form, call your municipal clerk’s office.  To find the number, search your address on this page and then scroll down to “Municipal Clerk Contact Information.

3. SRD: There are people called Special Registration Deputies (SRDs) who are trained to register others to vote. SRDs help people in nursing homes and other places where it may be difficult to get to a clerk’s office. If you register with an SRD, you must do so no later than 20 days before the election you intend to vote in.

4. On Election Day: You can also register at the polls on election day. Remember to bring your proof of residence along with an acceptable photo ID. WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND REGISTERING BEFORE ELECTION DAY!
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I can’t remember if I’m registered to vote. How can I check?
Click here to search your Wisconsin voter status. You can search your info after you choose a voter category. 
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I’m homeless. How do I register to vote?
If you are homeless, you may use a letter from a shelter or other organization providing services to the homeless as proof of residence when registering to vote. You can find more information and an example of an acceptable letter here.
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I moved since the last time I voted. What do I need to do?
If your address has changed, you need to re-register to vote. Remember:

  • Wisconsin law requires that you live at your current address for 28 consecutive days to be eligible to vote from your new address
  • If you have lived at your new address for less than 28 consecutive days before the election, you are still eligible to vote from your former address
  • If you have moved to Wisconsin less than 28 consecutive days before an election you are only able to vote in the Presidential election.
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The registration form says I must provide my WI driver’s license number if I have a current and valid one, but I can’t find my license. What should I do?
If you have been issued a WI driver license or WI Department of Transportation-issued ID that is current and valid, you must provide the number and expiration date when you register. If you are unsure of the number, please call DMV at 608-266-1069 and press “1”.

If you have never been issued a WI driver license or ID, or been issued one that is currently revoked, suspended or expired, you MUST provide the last 4 digits of your Social Security number (SSN).
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It’s election day and don’t know if I registered to vote or not. Can I still vote?
If you are registered to vote, the poll workers will be able to look you up. If you are not registered, you can register there, at the polls on election day. Make sure you bring a photo ID, and a proof of residence if you aren’t sure if you’re registered. For more information on what qualifies as proof of residence, click here.
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Where do I go vote and what should I bring?
To find out where your polling location is, click here and type in your address as directed. You must bring a photo ID (see here for what qualifies), and if you are not sure if you’re registered at your polling place, you should bring a proof of residence.
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What does ‘early voting’ and ‘absentee voting’ mean?

Absentee votes are ballots cast by voters before election day, instead of on it. Filling out your absentee ballot in-person at your municipal clerk’s office is called early voting. Under Wisconsin law, voters do not need a reason or excuse to vote absentee. Any voter who prefers to vote by absentee ballot may request one. You have several options for requesting an absentee ballot and casting your vote.

Here are the dates when early voting is available for each 2016 election:

early-voting-(new)
You early vote at your municipal clerk’s office. 
To find your municipal clerk, search your address on
this page
and then scroll down to “Municipal Clerk Contact Information.” You can also search through this list of all of Wisconsin’s municipal clerks.
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Do I need to bring a special Voter ID Card? NO

You will need a photo ID but there is no such thing as a specific “Wisconsin Voter ID Card.” The new Voter Photo ID law uses existing photo IDs for people to prove their identity before voting.
Find out if your current photo ID will work, or learn how to get a free state ID card, which you can use to vote.
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ID-guide

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Since I need to show a photo ID to vote, what qualifies as an acceptable ID?
Wisconsin requires all voters to show a photo ID to vote. Common forms of acceptable IDs include:

  • A Wisconsin DOT-issued driver license, even if driving privileges are revoked or suspended
  • A Wisconsin DOT-issued identification card
  • A Wisconsin DOT-issued identification card or driver license without a photo issued under the religious exemption
  • Military ID card issued by a U.S. uniformed service
  • U.S. passport

All the types of ID listed above must be unexpired, or expired after November 4, 2014. The following types of ID are also acceptable, as long as they are NOT expired:

  • A certificate of naturalization that was issued not earlier than two years before the date of an election at which it is presented
  • A driving receipt issued by Wisconsin DOT (valid for 45 days)
  • An identification card receipt issued by Wisconsin DOT (valid for 45 days)
  • An identification card issued by a federally recognized Indian tribe in Wisconsin
  • A photo identification card issued by a Wisconsin accredited university, college or technical college that contains date of issuance, signature of student, and an  expiration date no later than two years after date of issuance.  Also, the university, college or technical college ID must be accompanied by a separate document that proves enrollment.
  • A citation or notice of intent to revoke or suspend a Wisconsin DOT-issued driver license that is dated within 60 days of the date of the election.

To find out if you have an acceptable ID, or how to get one, click here.
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What else do I need to know about the photo ID law?
The address on your ID doesn’t have to be current. Your ID should look like you. Even if you’ve colored your hair, shaved your beard or lost some weight, as long as your photo ID reasonably resembles you, it should be accepted.

If you don’t have any acceptable ID, you may be able to get one for free. Click here for more information, or call 1-866-VOTE-WIS.

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I have a felony conviction. Can I vote?
If you are no long under supervision (aka, if you are “off papers”), you CAN vote in Wisconsin!
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I have a disability and it is difficult for me to go places. What can I do?
All polling places in Wisconsin must provide accessible voting equipment, and you are allowed to bring someone into the booth with you if you need help reading or marking your ballot. If you are unable to make it into your polling place due to a disability, curbside voting from your car is also available.Voters with disabilities may also request an absentee ballot be sent to them for every election.

For more information on accessibility issues, or to learn how to get assistance registering and voting, click here.
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I have to work on election day. How I can vote?

You have the right to leave work to vote

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In Wisconsin, you have the right to take time from work to vote on an election day. The stipulations are:
1. You must inform your employer a day in advance.
2. You can take up to three hours off and your employer can choose whether those hours are unpaid.
3. Your employer can decide what time you leave work.
4. It is illegal for your employer to penalize or punish you for taking time off to vote.

Click here to read the Wisconsin state law. If you want to, print it out and present it to your employer when you let them know that you will be leaving work to vote.
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I will be out of town or unable to vote on election day. How can I vote?
You may be able to vote early. Click here for information about early voting.
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find out who's on your ballot

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How do I find out what races will be on my ballot?

  1. Go to myvote.wi.gov
  2. Click on the voter category you fall under. For most people, it will be “Regular Voter.”
  3. On the left-hand side of the screen, click “Address Search.”
  4. Type in your residential address as directed and click “Search.”
  5. The page that will appear will have lots of helpful information for you, including the date of the next election, where your polling place is, and the contact information of your municipal clerk. Scroll down and you will see “What’s On My Ballot?” with a list of the races, candidates, and any referendums that will be on your ballot for the next election.

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I don’t know enough about all the candidates on my ballot. How can I find out more about them?
With TV, radio, and internet ads bombarding us, it can be hard to find out if candidates’ campaigns have any substance and what their true motivation is for running. But it can be done, and is important to do. Click here for our guide on becoming an informed voter. 
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As a resident of Wisconsin, how many people represent me at the state (Madison) and federal (Washington DC) levels?
Not including the governor, lieutenant governor, president, or vice president, decisions about your daily lives are being made by: 

  • One state representative (also called an assemblyman or assemblywoman)
  • One state senator
  • One U.S. representative
  • Two U.S. senators

Everyone in Wisconsin is represented by the same two U.S. Senators. Currently, those senators are Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson.

To find out who your state legislators are, search your address here.
To find out who your U.S. legislators are, click here.
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What is the difference between a state senator and a U.S. senator?
Wisconsin is divided into 33 senate districts and each senate district is represented by one state senator. The 33 state senators have offices and conduct business in the Madison Capitol Building. They write, consider, and enact legislation that affects only Wisconsin. 

There are 100 U.S. senators with offices in Washington DC – two from each state. U.S. senators write, consider, and enact federal legislation that can affect everyone in the country.
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What is a state representative, and how are they different from a state senator?
Each of the 33 state senate districts are split into three state assembly districts, and each assembly district is represented by one state representative. So there are 99 assembly districts in Wisconsin, each with a representative in Madison who votes on proposed legislation that would only affect Wisconsin.
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What is the difference between a U.S. representative and a U.S. senator?
The U.S. Congress (the people elected to represent us all in Washington DC) is made up of two chambers: the House and the Senate. People who are part of the House are called representatives or congresspeople, and people who are part of the Senate are senators.

Representatives are elected to represent a part of a state. Senators are elected to represent the entire state. Both houses draft, introduce, and vote on bills that may become federal law. 

The number of representatives for each state is determined by its population according to the U.S. census, but the total number of US representatives is fixed at 435 and each state is entitled to at least one. Wisconsin is currently represented by 8 U.S. congresspeople.
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What about my local level elected officials? How many are there and who are they?
Every municipality is different but in general, each resident has someone who represents them on county issues and someone who represents them on city issues. To find out who your specific representatives are and what they do, go to your city or county’s website, or call your municipal clerk.
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