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In-person early voting begins in Wisconsin

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Sandra Rivera-Derickson arrived outside the Madison city clerk's office before dawn on Monday to be among the first in Wisconsin to cast ballots early and in person in an election that's just 15 days away.

Rivera-Derickson, a 66-year-old retired teacher and native of Puerto Rico, said her parents taught her the importance of voting and that's why she showed up at 5:30 a.m., two and a half hours before the doors opened.

"You have a citizen's obligation to vote," she said. "I wanted to make that statement."

Rivera-Derickson wasn't the only one making a statement Monday as election officials across Wisconsin reported long lines and steady voting throughout the morning.

Wisconsin is one of just nine states where both President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney are campaigning heavily as the election nears. The state has 10 electoral votes up for grabs, and its open U.S. Senate race, which pits former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson against Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, is one of the hottest in the country.

Wisconsin's in-person early voting period runs through Nov. 2, the Friday before the election. Unlike four years ago, early in-person voting is only two weeks rather than nearly four. In 2008, about 20 percent of all ballots were cast early, either in-person or absentee.

In the Senate race, Thompson campaigned in Appleton to urge people to vote early. He also appeared in Green Bay as part of a seven-state tour organized by the National Federation of Independent Business. Baldwin rallied her supporters at the start of early voting in La Crosse.

Both Obama and Romney's campaigns were encouraging early voting. The Obama campaign organized "Be the First" events around the state to get people out to vote Monday. The Romney early vote effort was called "Commit to Mitt" and had a special emphasis on college voters and women.

Requests for absentee ballots in Republican-heavy counties are up from four years ago, which is a good sign for Romney, said his campaign spokesman, Ben Sparks. The campaign has numerous events planned during the early vote period to get people to the polls, including a Tuesday luncheon targeting women voters with Tonette Walker, the wife of Gov. Scott Walker.

In the first four hours of voting in Janesville, home of GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, about 170 people had voted.

"We've been busy," Janesville city clerk Jean Wulf said.

But unlike in Democrat-heavy Madison, where dozens of people were in line, there were only two people waiting in Janesville when the doors opened at 7:30 a.m., Wulf said.

Katie Iliff was one of about 20 University of Wisconsin-Madison students who set up tents and camped out on the sidewalk Sunday night outside of the Madison clerk's office near the state Capitol.

"We're just so excited to vote," Iliff said. "I'm stoked."

Alex Brauer, an 18-year-old UW-Madison student, was voting in his first election for Obama.

"I think he's the best guy out there," he said. "He has to continue the work he did."

Rivera-Derickson, the first of about 75 people in line in Madison, said she was also voting for Obama.

"He's my best option because he's trying to give every person, no matter what ethnic background, a chance to be a successful citizen," she said.

In Green Bay, which is one of the heaviest targets of advertising in the country by both Obama and Romney, about 175 people voted in the first four hours Monday, city clerk Kris Teske said. About 60 people were lined up when the doors opened, but most of them were part of an organized effort by the Democratic Party, she said.

There were no reports of any problems around the state, or a feel for how many had voted as of mid-day, said Reid Magney, spokesman for the Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections.

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