Vote here: Sign at Racine, Wisconsin City Hall

I voted. Amy voted too. We voted early.

We have been receiving the notices from the Obama campaign and seeing how they urge people to vote early. They even have a Web site, VoteForChange.com, to help Americans find out how to vote early.

Still, I wasn’t completely persuaded. I like going to my polling place on Election Day. I like giving our names to the poll workers and getting the little slip with my voter number on it. I like personally inserting my ballot into the machine and hearing the beep. I love getting the little “I voted” sticker and wearing it all day. It all feels so official. It’s really fun and kind of moving to be participating along with all the other local voters — sometimes, in a huge national decision.

Early voting here in Racine, Wisconsin, on the other hand, involves going down to City Hall (730 Washington Ave.) during regular business hours (8:00 a.m. – 4:55 p.m.) and filling out an absentee ballot at the City Clerk‘s office.

This all seemed a little awkward and alien to me. If I fill out a ballot today, what happens to it between now and November 4? How do I know it will be counted? Couldn’t someone just throw it away or something?

For all I know, though, the machine that I normally insert my ballot into could just be a large and quiet shredder. I really have no way of being certain that my vote is being counted. I feel a lot like Homer Simpson in that now-famous clip.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama has persistently urged me to vote early.

He must know what he’s talking about, right? I imagine he’s looked into this voting stuff a little.

Plus, as Sen. Obama points out at his rallies, something unforeseen could interfere on Election Day. “Your car might break down. You might have an emergency … the alarm might not go off and you don’t get to work on time.” Also, it does look like there could be a huge turnout this November 4, and that lines could be longer and tempers therefore shorter than usual. Maybe it’s a good idea to avoid all that and ease the burden on the poll workers.

What really got me, though, was Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. He has a story in the latest Rolling Stone about the effort by Republicans to deter new voters and discard Democratic ballots. He and Greg Palast are behind a Web site called StealBackYourVote.org offering a guide through the voting obstacle course that has been built in recent years.

Kennedy appeared as a guest last night on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, and some of the tactics he described made me both frightened and angry. He also stressed early voting as one of the best things you can do to make sure your vote counts.

So, off we went to City Hall at about 11:30 this morning. We were not alone. There were other voters making their way determinedly into and out of the building. One old woman remarked that she’d never seen so many people there. Still, we did find a spot in the parking lot very close to the door, and we did not have to wait in any lines.

Inside, there were signs pointing the way to Room 102, where the voting preliminaries are being conducted. At the first table, we were asked for our driver’s licenses, then checked against a computer screen and given a very short form to fill out and sign: Name, address, date of birth, today’s date, signature. After watching Bobby Kennedy, I was very careful to fill out everything exactly as it appears on my driver’s license. Then, at a second table, I presented that form and received an additional card.

Actual voting takes place across the hall in Room 103, the City Clerk’s office. There, we handed in our forms, received our ballots (just like the ballots we always use) and took them to the familiar little portable voting booths, using felt-tip pens to complete the arrows of our choices next to those candidates’ names — plus the one referendum question about additional police funding. I have heard that it’s best to vote for each individual name rather than choosing the straight party arrow, which makes sense since your intent is more obvious, whether to a machine or a human.

We returned our completed ballots to the window where we got them, folding them and placing them into envelopes which we sealed and signed. Amy asked what would happen to our balllots, and we were told they would be kept under lock and key until Election Day, and then taken to our polling place under police escort to be counted.

We did ask, but alas, you do not receive a customary “I voted” sticker with this early voting option. Still, the idea of our ballots being escorted by police seemed very impressive and reassuring. As Amy remarked, the basic difference seems to be that instead of personally inserting our ballots into a machine which looks like a shredder, someone else will be doing it for us this Election Day.

Let’s hope the folding doesn’t make them less readable.

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