Wisconsin moves closer to cuts in early voting hours


Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker could see another elections bill on his desk (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

The Wisconsin state Senate on Tuesday will take up a measure to cut early voting hours during weekend days, a move Democrats say will make it harder for urban voters to cast ballots.

The bill would open early voting sites at county clerks’ offices on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Clerks’ offices would be prohibited from remaining open later at night or on weekends, when party activists have been most successful at driving voters to the polls.

Republican backers of the proposed legislation say standardizing early voting hours statewide would give equal access to voters in both urban areas and in more sparsely populated rural counties, where clerks sometimes don’t have the resources to keep their offices open late.

“It is important that we do something toward establishing uniformity for early voting around the state,” state Sen. Glenn Grothman (R), the bill’s lead sponsor, told the MacIver News Service, a conservative-leaning think tank.

Democrats, though, say the limited hours mean voters who work during the week would be disenfranchised.

“I am not comfortable with a standard that treats a community that has 50 people or 500 people the same as Milwaukee that has more than half a million people,” state Sen. Lena Taylor (D) told MacIver.

A similar version of the bill passed the Wisconsin Assembly in November. That version would have cut early voting to a maximum of 40 hours per week, limited to between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. If the Senate bill passes, the differences between the two versions would have to be reconciled or the Assembly would have to pass the Senate version.

The Senate bill passed a key committee last week on a party-line vote. So did the House version last year. Both the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly are controlled by Republicans.

Early voting, which is only allowed at county clerk offices, accounts for a little less than 10 percent of the overall number of ballots cast in Wisconsin in a given year. In 2012, 256,000 people cast ballots early, according to the United States Elections Project at George Mason University, about 8.3 percent of the 3 million ballots cast.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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