Absentee voting began today in Natrona County and the rest of Wyoming before the Aug. 16 primary.

Natrona County Clerk Renea Vitto, whose office is in charge of elections,said voters will see a small improvement when they come to the old courthouse at 200 N. Center St.

In the past, voters would mark their absentee ballots at the courthouse and put them in envelopes that would be opened on election night and then tabulated, or counted.

"You'll sign an affidavit that you are voting today and then you'll be able to cast your ballot into the voting machine just as if you were in the polling place," Vitto said.

"We cannot tabulate, of course, until election night," she said. "But your ballot is in there and you don't have to place it in an envelope."

As always, people can register to vote the day they vote, Vitto said."Because this would be their election day."

People can request ballots by calling the elections office at 235-9217, visiting the elections website and request a ballot by email, or stopping by the office and pick up a ballot they can take with them, she said.

The major change for the primary and the Nov. 8 general election, of course, is the consolidation of many polling places -- nearly all of them public schools -- within Casper city limits, Vitto said.

Fourteen precincts in Casper Wards I and II will be located at the Industrial Building at the Fairgrounds at 1700 Fairgrounds Road, and six precincts in Ward III that will be at the Restoration Church at 411 S. Walsh Drive, she said.

"I do believe I know that a lot of people are very apprehensive about voting in these consolidated areas," Vitto said.

But the elections office will have electronic poll books so the process will be much smoother than in the past, she said.

When people walk into the Industrial Building or the church, they will check in by identifying themselves. If they are already registered and their addresses haven't changed, they will be sent to a table identifying their precincts. If their addresses have changed, poll workers can immediately change the information and send them to the tables, Vitto said.

She is looking at possible public transportation to increase or enhance bus routes. Usually the political parties offer transportation to the polls, too, she said.

In March, Vitto proposed consolidating polling places in response to complaints over the years mostly at the Natrona County School District’s elementary schools. Those problems included lack of parking, construction, lack of voting access required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and safety issues with possible lockdowns during emergencies.

Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray said in a news release Wednesday that citizens can request absentee ballots from their county clerks. Visit the Secretary of State's website to find a list of Wyoming’s County Clerks.

Voting is one of the most important rights Americans have, Murray said. "It is our responsibility as good citizens, living in this great land of freedom, to become informed and exercise our right to vote."