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Controversial election bills find little support in state Senate
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Controversial election bills find little support in state Senate

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Senate Republicans moved three election-related bills through committee Thursday, removing a controversial provision from one and taking no action on a fourth bill that was criticized by election watchdog groups.

The caucus is also balking at other controversial election reforms such as doubling campaign contribution limits, an Assembly-approved bill requiring voters to present photo identification and a constitutional amendment to change the recall process.

Also on Thursday, Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, added an election reform idea to the mix: ending same-day voter registration; however, he immediately acknowledged the bill had no chance of passing this session.

Of 15 election-related bills still under consideration, eight have Democratic support, while the prospects for at least four remain up in the air, said Dan Romportl, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.

Those four include a bill that would limit in-person absentee voting in the two weeks before an election to weekdays between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.; set buffer zones for election observers; and allow lobbyists to make campaign donations starting April 15, rather than June 1, in an election year.

The lobbyist change, which was introduced late Monday and had a public hearing Wednesday, was done to reflect earlier primaries, but critics worry it overlaps with the legislative session. The bill originally allowed lobbyists to funnel donor money to candidates, but Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, removed that provision after negotiating several changes with Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, on Thursday.

The fourth bill, which would have enshrined in law an exemption for issue advocacy groups from campaign finance disclosure, did not have enough Republican support to pass and its future is murky, Lazich said.

Ending the decades-old practice of weekend voting would primarily affect large municipalities such as Madison and Milwaukee, which have larger municipal clerk staffs. Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said 2,031 weekend votes were cast in Madison before the 2012 presidential election. There were 347 weekend votes cast before the 2010 gubernatorial election.

In seeking co-sponsors for his bill, Grothman said constituents have raised concerns about same-day voter registration, including backlogs at polling places and questions of whether voters were registering in the right places.

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said eliminating the practice — which allows voters to register on election day if they present proof of residency — would have a much broader impact than eliminating weekend voting. Between 10 and 13 percent of voters register on election day, McDonell said.

“There are no issues of fraud that have ever been documented because of it,” McDonell said. “If there’s not an issue with fraud, then Senator Grothman must have an issue with people voting.”

Fitzgerald said in response to the proposal that it’s too late in the session for bills that haven’t been introduced yet to get a floor vote this session. Grothman said he wanted to register his opposition to the practice and take up the issue again next session.

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