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Wisconsin is the latest swing state to target early voting

Wisconsin GOPers just scrapped weekend voting—using arguments that set a new standard for cynicism. Meanwhile, the governor is going to the mat for voter ID.
Hezkie Vburgess (C) shows proof of residency to a poll worker during early voting at the Milwaukee Municipal Building on Oct. 22, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wis.
Hezkie Vburgess (C) shows proof of residency to a poll worker during early voting at the Milwaukee Municipal Building on Oct. 22, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wis.

Another week, another Republican effort to make voting harder in a key swing state.

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin passed a bill Wednesday to scrap weekend voting—and the rationale they used to support the move may set a new standard for cynicism. A day earlier, Republican Gov. Scott Walker vowed to go to the mat for the state’s controversial voter ID law.

The developments come on the heels of major cuts to early voting, and an end to same-day registration, in Ohio.

The GOP-controlled Wisconsin Senate voted 17-16 for a bill that would bar counties from offering weekend voting or weekday voting after 7 p.m. Every Democrat opposed the measure.

"I feel like I'm in 1906, fighting the fights that people who came long before me had to fight," Democratic Sen. Lena Taylor, an African-American, said on the floor of the Senate. "I would argue it screams of backward-thinking mentality, all the way back to Jim Crow. And you should be ashamed."

From the start, GOP backers of the bill have said it’s needed because in sparsely populated rural counties, weekend voting doesn’t justify the costs of keeping polls open. And it would be unfair, they argue, to let different counties offer different hours, as many states do.

As Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican, put it in comments to reporters Wednesday just after the bill had passed:

It's difficult for people to turn on Channel 6 in Milwaukee ... and there's a shot of someone voting during a time when it's not available to people in rural areas.

In other words: Rural counties don’t need weekend voting. But their residents might feel left out if they see others voting at a time when they can’t. So no one should vote on weekends. Unmentioned in this, of course, is that voters in heavily populated urban counties are disproportionately minorities and Democrats.

Fitzgerald isn’t the only Wisconsin Republican falling back on that twisted logic. 

“The idea of having one set of rules to apply to one municipality and another set of rules to apply to another goes against equal protection of the laws and is contrary to all our country stands for," Sen. Glenn Grothman, told msnbc back in November, not long after he introduced the measure. "Isn’t it?

Grothman also suggested anyone who was prevented from voting by the bill perhaps shouldn’t be voting in the first place. 

Between [early voting], mail absentee, and voting the day of election, you know, I mean anybody who can’t vote with all those options, they’ve really got a problem. I really don’t think they care that much about voting in the first place, right?

Citing the need for uniformity looks to be gaining popularity as a justification for early voting cuts. Ohio Republicans made the same argument in support of their recent early voting restrictions, though generally wihtout invoking the tender sensibilities of rural voters who might feel bad. In the past, Republicans have sometimes said early voting increases the chance of fraud, but little evidence has emerged to support that. 

In 2011, Wisconsin Republicans eliminated voting on the final weekend and the Monday before the election. The latest bill—which likely will need to be merged with a similar House version before going to Walker’s desk—would scrap voting on the weekend before that.

In 2012, around 7,000 people in the cities of Madison and Milwaukee alone used those days to vote. Over half a million Wisconsinites voted early, including weekdays, according to state numbers.

A progressive group, One Wisconsin Now, has said it may sue to overturn the bill if it becomes law, charging that it discriminates against minorities, who are more likely than whites to use early voting.

Walker hasn't said if he will sign the bill, but he's no friend of voting rights.

The governor, who faces re-election this year, said Tuesday that finding a way to get the state's controversial voter ID law into effect before the fall is a top priority. The law, passed in 2011, has been blocked after being challenged by civil rights groups. Both federal and state courts are expected to issues rulings on the law soon. 

Walker told reporters that if it’s struck down, he’ll call lawmakers into a special session to modify it, so as to ensure it passes muster in the courts.

“The only real thing I thought that was pressing, and it may still continue to be pressing depending on what the courts react on, is voter ID,” said Walker, who has been mentioned as a potential 2016 Republican presidential contender. “And so we’re monitoring that closely, trying to figure out if there need to be any modifications.”