Democrats urge Gov. Walker to veto "voter suppression bill"

MADISON (WITI) -- Democrats have dialed up the pressure on Gov. Scott Walker over early voting. They're asking him to veto a controversial bill that would create uniform early voting hours across the state.

The bill, if signed by Gov. Walker, would limit in-person absentee voting to Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the two weeks before an election. No weekend voting would be allowed and only 45 hours a week of early voting would be permitted.

Republicans have argued that the current early voting system is unfair to those in rural areas — saying uniform standards for early voting need to be applied across the state. Last week, the measure passed the Senate 17-16, and now heads to the Assembly — where an identical version must pass before it heads to Gov. Walker’s desk. Gov. Walker has not indicated whether he’d sign it.

Politicians and activists gathered Monday, March 17th on the steps of the Municipal Building -- the busiest polling place in Milwaukee -- to send a message to Gov. Walker that they don't want their voices silenced.

"I really feel that early voting is essential here in Milwaukee and across the state. People like I am -- I'm a disabled veteran -- I can't afford to stand and wait in long lines for a certain period of time. They're trying to shut the voices down here in the city of Milwaukee. I feel the Republican Party is scared of the voices of Milwaukee, because we had one of the biggest turnouts in the last election, and I believe that's what they're really afraid of, and that's why they're cutting back on early voting, to discourage people from coming out to vote," Edward Jude said.

Republicans in the state Senate say the bill was necessary.

"Obviously, it's completely unfair to have some cities, which receive huge amounts of state aid, to have voting on weekends when you don't have that in other areas," Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) said.

While Republicans say the move was practical policy, Democrats say it's a politically driven strategy.

"This is a blatant attempt to try and disenfranchise people. I've never seen this in 30 years -- or blatant bills that are designed to change the balance of power permanently in Madison, whether it be legislative redistricting or now to try and go after your opponent's throat and stop people from voting -- or make it awfully damn difficult for them to be able to vote," Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) said.

"What we're trying to do is bring some consistency to voting hours throughout the state.  I've heard from a number of constituents who watch (FOX6) and other Milwaukee news outlets, that it just seemed to be unfair -- when you see a line of people in Milwaukee ready to vote on a Saturday, and yet somebody in rural Wisconsin -- or Dodge or Washington, or even Waukesha County is unable to go to the town hall that they may vote in and cast a ballot," Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has been a vocal opponent of the bill.

"This state Legislature should be dealing with ways to fix problems with elections -- not fix elections. This is about as pernicious as it can come, because this is about making sure that people in this community have to wait a lot longer to vote than people in other communities," Mayor Barrett said.

This is even becoming an issue in the campaign for governor, with Democratic candidate Mary Burke saying she would veto the bill.

"To try to suppress people from going to the polls -- having them shout down their voice is not the way we should be doing things here in Wisconsin," Burke said.

Gov. Walker has said he is reviewing the bill.

"My goal is, I want to make it easier to vote but harder to cheat so to me, anything that I'm going to look at that comes through the Legislature has to meet that criteria," Gov. Walker said.

The Wisconsin Assembly could vote on the bill this week. If it's passed, it heads to Gov. Walker's desk.