The Republican-controlled state Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would end weekend voting prior to statewide elections.
But the bill’s prospects in the Assembly are unclear after a late amendment was added to secure Senate Republican support.
The legislation would limit in-person absentee voting in the two weeks before an election to weekdays between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Clerks could only offer a total of 45 hours of such voting each week.
It passed 17-16 Wednesday with Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, joining Democrats in opposition. Democrats used a procedural move to delay passage of it and three other election-related bills Tuesday night after hours of floor debate.
The other three bills, which let poll workers live outside their municipality, allow lobbyists to make campaign donations earlier and create election observer buffer zones, also passed Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said afterward that an amendment providing state matching funds for municipal clerks to hold the in-person absentee voting hours was “the breakthrough” that got the necessary votes to pass that bill.
“We don’t have agreement with the Assembly on that, so I’m kind of waiting to see how they react to what the Senate passed,” Fitzgerald said.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said Wednesday he hadn’t reviewed the amendment yet and couldn’t comment on whether it would pass. The Assembly passed a similar bill, but the chambers must adopt identical measures before they can go to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.
“I’m glad the Senate agrees with us that there should be standards so that everyone is treated fairly,” Vos said.
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Fitzgerald estimated the statewide cost of the provision would be $200,000. It only would be in effect for the upcoming fall and spring elections.
Fitzgerald said many Republicans have heard complaints from constituents about weekend voting being available in Milwaukee but not in their rural districts.
“It’s not that there’s a concern with how clerks manage elections or concerns with whether they’re being operated properly,” Fitzgerald said.
Sen. Mark Miller, D-Madison, criticized all of the GOP-backed election bills — saying they would limit access to the ballot box — but added that the measure curtailing absentee voting was especially bad.
“Of all the bills, I believe this is the worst,” Miller said. “Expanding absentee voting is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing.”
Miller accused Republicans of trying to “suppress the vote in the urban areas” like Milwaukee, adding that they will ultimately suppress the vote across the state as well.
As the legislative session winds down, the Senate spent several hours debating more than a dozen election-related bills. Democrats supported more than half of them, but criticized others, with the absentee voting limits drawing the most ire.
Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said the bill would especially create hurdles for seniors, students, blacks and other minorities.
“I would argue that it screams of backward thinking mentality all the way back to Jim Crow,” Taylor said.