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Wisconsin roundup: Early ballots returning from Obama-backed counties; UW revokes season tickets, apologizes for noose incident; 9 more state news stories

MADISON -- Most of this year's early voters are from counties that helped re-elect Democrat Barack Obama for president in 2012.

The state Elections Commission says almost 800,000 state residents have cast absentee ballots as of Monday morning -- and the political news website WisPolitics.com says almost 56 percent of ballots returned to local clerks are from counties that carried Obama -- while 44-percent are from counties that went with Republican Mitt Romney for the White House in 2012.

As of Monday, the numbers of returned absentee ballots were about 100,000 higher than in 2012 -- and Menominee, Douglas, and Monroe counties had the largest local increases. Of those, Monroe is the only one that went for Romney. The state's strongest Republican counties in suburban Milwaukee reported increases, but not as high as in the Democratic areas -- and state officials remind absentee voters that all ballots must be in by 8 p.m. Tuesday to be counted.

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UW revokes season tickets, apologizes for noose incident

MADISON -- UW-Madison has revoked the season tickets of two Badger football fans, one of whom wore a mask of President Barack Obama while the other was pulling a noose around Obama's neck.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank told the Faculty Senate on Monday that she apologizes for the incident, which caused a national stir when photos from the Badger/Nebraska game Oct. 29 went viral. Camp Randall Stadium staffers let the two fans stay after the noose was removed -- but Blank confirmed other reports that the noose was put back on later in the game in another area. Blank says policies for conduct and the items that can be carried in will be changed in time for the next Badger football game on Saturday against Illinois.

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Less rain means more crops harvested

MADISON -- Wisconsin farmers have taken advantage of recent dry weather to make rapid progress in the harvesting of their crops.

According to the state Ag Statistics Service, 68 percent of the corn for grain is in the bin -- two days behind last year, but one day ahead of the average for the past five years. After the heavy September rains, the corn is getting drier with an average moisture content of 18 percent -- and good quality yields are being reported.

Only seven percent of the Wisconsin soybean crop remains in the field. That's one full week behind last year, but the same as the five year norm. The USDA says Wisconsin had 5.7 days suitable for field work last week, as warmer and clear weather allowed farmers to spend longer days with the harvest.

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Two bikers killed in crash ID'd

NEILSVILLE -- Two motorcyclists killed when a car struck their bike in Clark County have been identified as 52-year-old Bruce Halama and 52-year-old Sharlene Witz, both of Whitehall.

Sheriff's deputies say they're still trying to figure out why a car crossed a center line and hit the oncoming motorcycle. Sheriff Gregory Herrick says the 59-year-old auto driver from Altoona will be ticketed for driving across the center line. Halama was driving the motorcycle at the time of the crash. It happened Saturday afternoon on Highway 10 near Neillsville.

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Wisconsin voting patterns could be turned upside-down

Almost seven of every 10 Wisconsin adults will have voted in Tuesday's elections, including the nearly 800,000 who voted early.

Republicans will try to win the state's ten presidential electoral votes for the first time since Ronald Reagan in 1984, and Donald Trump is trying to become only the third Republican since 1960 to carry the Badger State. Polls give Democrat Hillary Clinton a slight lead in Wisconsin -- and the state's U.S. Senate contest is so close, it's considered a tossup by some pundits.

Incumbent Ron Johnson is trying to become the first state Republican since Bob Kasten in 1980 to win a Senate post in a presidential year -- and if Democrat Russ Feingold defeats Johnson, he would be the first since 1934 to win back any U.S. Senate seat after losing it six years earlier. State officials expect a record 3.1 million Wisconsinites to vote. Polls are open until 8 p.m.

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State voters to decide hundreds of other contests, proposals

Wisconsin will get at least one new U.S. House member after Tuesday's elections.

Voters in the northeast part of the state will choose a replacement for Republican Reid Ribble, who's stepping down after six years. Former veteran and Walker presidential campaign aide Mike Gallagher of Green Bay has had a spirited contest against Democrat Tom Nelson, a former state Assembly Speaker and current Outagamie County executive.

All 99 Assembly seats are up, and Speaker Robin Vos predicts a Republican majority that's at least as close at the current 63-36 GOP edge -- while the state Senate has a 19-14 Republican majority with 16 of the 33 seats on the ballot. Numerous county offices are also on statewide ballots Tuesday, along with almost $1.2 billion in public school building referendum and tax increase requests.

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Body of fisherman pulled from Kewaunee harbor

KEWAUNEE -- A Green Bay fisherman found dead in the Kewaunee harbor has been identified as 43-year-old Robert Umentum III.

Rescuers were called to the Lake Michigan harbor around three Monday morning, after somebody heard a distant cry for help. Divers from Door County found Umentum near a pier on the harbor around 10:40 a.m. Kewaukee Police say the victim was an avid fisherman. They're still trying to determine how he fell into calm waters about halfway down a pier.

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Woman sought for fires, attempt to kill father

GREEN LAKE -- Green Lake County sheriff's deputies say they're looking for a mentally unstable woman suspected of setting fires in her father's home, apparently to try and kill him.

Deputies say 57-year-old Cynthia Starks Griffin of Elizabethtown, Ky., is wanted for attempted homicide and arson, after she allegedly set fires to a home early Sunday in the town of Marquette on the southwest corner of Big Green Lake. Nobody was injured.

Officers say Starks Griffin is traveling in a silver van with a Kentucky license plate -- she has two reportedly vicious dogs with her -- and she may have both a shotgun and a 9 mm handgun. Green Lake deputies say Starks Griffin has been sleeping in her van in public places in south central Wisconsin.

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School voters to consider more than $1B statewide

Wisconsin public schools will ask their taxpayers to approve almost $1.25 billion for building projects and operational tax increases.

Almost 70 school referendums are on the ballots Tuesday. There are 42 proposals to borrow money for new and remodeled buildings, totaling more than $1 billion. Twenty-six districts are also asking people to give their schools more than the state mandated revenue limits to keep their programs operating.

The Eau Claire district has the state's largest revenue cap exemption at $88 million for 15 years, and Madison wants an extra $26 million for four years. Chippewa Falls has two building referendum questions totaling $159 million to build a new high school, rebuild an elementary school, and renovate other facilities.

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Wisconsin corn and bean farmers eye record crops

MADISON -- Some farmers in western Wisconsin lost fields to September's floods, but the rest of the farmers in the state should see record corn and soybean crops.

The National Agriculture Statistics Service expects Wisconsin farmers to produce 549 million bushels of corn and 101 million bushels of soybeans. Both would be new records.

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Judge to rule in 2 weeks on coupon fraud case

MILWAUKEE -- Federal Judge Charles Clevert of Milwaukee says he'll announce a verdict in two weeks for a man charged in a $250 million coupon fraud case.

Attorneys gave their final arguments Monday in the trial of 63-year-old Chris Balsiger of Texas, who served as his own lawyer without a jury. He's accused of running a national coupon fraud scheme during the course of a decade at a coupon processing firm in which "chop crews" allegedly redeemed coupons that customers never received, and kept the money instead of passing it on to the stores and companies that offered the coupon discounts to their customers.

Prosecutors said Balsiger orchestrated the scheme, and blamed it on others when it was exposed -- but the defendant says he's the victim of overzealous FBI investigators and federal prosecutors. The trial lasted more than five weeks, and it was delayed twice when Balsiger checked into a hospital with high blood pressure.

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