In a state with high voter turnout, a GOP bill targets early voting

Voters cast their vote in the Presidential elections on November, 6, 2012 in Janesville Wisconsin.
Voters cast their vote in the Presidential elections on November, 6, 2012 in Janesville Wisconsin.
Darren Hauck/Getty

While voting rights advocates have zeroed in on North Carolina where the governor is getting ready to sign a controversial voting law, Republicans in Wisconsin are readying their own voting overhaul.
The latest legislation comes from state Sen. Glenn Grothman who is pushing two bills to restrict early voting and a third that would reduce requirements on donor disclosures.
These latest attempts to change election law could be called the aftershocks of the state’s Republican takeover of 2011. After winning full control of the state house and governor’s mansion for the first time in more than a decade in 2010, Republicans began pushing a hard right agenda that included a ban on collective bargaining and new strict voter ID requirements. The state did continue its tradition of voting for Democrats in the presidential race last year in choosing to re-elect President Obama over Mitt Romney last year.
One proposal would create new limits to the amount of early voting that can be offered by local elections officials, shrinking the number of hours, ending all weekend voting and allowing ballots to be cast only during regular business hours. Wisconsin enjoys some of the highest rates of voter participation in the country year after year–No. 2 in the nation last year–which has been attributed partly to its ample early voting period.
The state’s chapter of the League of Women Voters said it is concerned that the legislation would “reduce the opportunities for voters across the state who have daytime jobs or family commitments.”
Andrea Kaminski, executive director of LWA in Wisconsin, explains:

By treating all municipalities equally, it would favor voters in small communities where a clerk serves a couple of hundred residents rather than a hundred thousand. In addition, the proposal does not say that all clerks’ offices shall be open 24 hours per week; rather it says they shall be open no more than 24 hours per week. Thus it sets a maximum level at which a clerk may serve her constituents, not a minimum level.
Limiting early voting to business hours would complicate the lives of the many part-time municipal clerks in our state who have “day jobs” and perform their clerk duties off-hours. How will they serve their constituents, who also may work during business hours? This proposal would impose a statewide, cookie-cutter solution to a nonexistent problem.

Another proposal from Grothman would hit elderly voters and those who help them. Citing “anecdotal evidence of abuses,” Grothman’s legislation creates a new obstacle, requiring anyone assisting a voter in a residential facility to post a notice 72 hours in advance and post that notice online.
“This is just the latest round of politically motivated attacks on our democracy in Wisconsin,” said Lisa Subeck, executive director of United Wisconsin, a progressive group that worked on the effort to recall Gov. Walker, in a statement. “Republicans suffered significant losses in Wisconsin’s statewide elections in November 2012, so they are now attempting to stack the deck for 2014 by making voting more difficult for those who may not agree with their radical policies.”
A third bill loosens financial disclosure rules, increasing the minimum donation requiring documentation from $100 to $500. Currently, campaigns must disclose the name and occupation of any donor who gives $100 or more.
While Grothman’s legislation is still being shopped around, it’s only the latest voter restriction effort pushed by Republicans in the state house this year. Earlier this summer, Republican state Rep. Jeff Stone pushed an omnibus elections bill that drew significant complaints from Democrats for its inclusion of voter ID requirements.
Ultimately, the General Assembly passed a watered down version of the legislation with bipartisan support, loosening campaign donation limits and creating an online voter registration system, removing voter ID and other changes from the bill.
And while the state’s 2011 voter ID law is on hold until further legal battles can be played out, Republicans have already pledged to see that law or a similar one enacted.
Critics are quick to point out that Wisconsin has seen no cases of voter impersonation fraud in recent years. But state senator and former Mitt Romney state campaign chair Alberta Darling was convinced the law would have made a difference in the final statewide vote tally.
“Absolutely, I think so,” Darling said. “I know people will go, ‘We don’t have fraud and abuse in our elections.’ But why, why can’t we have voter ID when the majority of our people in Wisconsin wanted it, we passed it, the governor signed it?”