I stand in line among strangers as I navigate daily life. Together we wait, not having the slightest clue what the people behind or in front of us might have on their minds. But when the line leads to the voting booth, the people surrounding me are no longer strangers but compatriots.

It’s an understatement that there’s much at stake in the upcoming presidential election. No matter which side you’re on, the reality is that the candidate who wins the highest office in the nation this fall will shape our futures profoundly. Voting in this contest is our vehicle for choosing which direction we want our country to take. Those who fail to cast a ballot leave their futures in the hands of others.

I’ve been a fan for years of early voting. With my busy life, I would rather take advantage of the shorter waiting time to cast my ballot weeks in advance of Election Day than to risk spending hours getting to and from the polls on the second Tuesday in November.

In Madison, early voting started in the last week of September. It’s also known as in-person absentee voting. The hours of operation are from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays at the city clerk’s office. Weekend hours make it even more convenient. On the first four Saturdays in October, early voting will take place 9 a.m. to noon, and hours will be extended to 2 p.m. on Oct. 29 and Nov. 5. Want to vote on Sunday? You’re in luck. The clerk’s office will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. on Oct. 30 and Nov. 6.

In addition to the race for the White House, the ballot will include the rematch between U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican, and former Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat. Local voters will also decide on a multi-million dollar referendum that would phase in funding for the Madison Metropolitan School District over the next four years. For more specific information on the issues to be decided in your area, contact your local clerk’s office. Sample ballots are available generally 47 days before a national election. There’s always excitement on Election Day, the culmination of hard-fought campaigning by politicians, preparation by municipal workers and careful scrutiny of the candidates by the electorate. But I prefer early voting to the hectic buzz of the main event. In the much quieter hum of the municipal office, I stand with compatriots who are ready to take their futures into their own hands.