Dems blast Rep.-backed bill that would restrict early voting

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- This week, the Wisconsin Senate will vote on a Republican-backed bill that would restrict early voting. On Sunday, March 9th, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and a number of Milwaukee's Democratic leaders blasted the bill as an attack on the Democratic process.

The proposal would end in-person absentee voting on weekends, and severely scale back the hours.

Mayor Barrett says it's an attempt to limit voting in urban areas.

"This is about resetting the rules so that you favor the team that is winning right now. That's what this is all about," Mayor Barrett said.

The measure passed out of committee on a party-line vote last week and will be debated by the full Senate on Tuesday, March 11th.

If passed, the measure would restrict early voting hours to between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. on weekdays only.

Voters can cast early ballots on weekends under current law.

Early voting would be restricted to the two weeks before the election.

Republicans say the reason for the proposal is to have a uniform statewide system.

"They say, well, they want it to be uniform. They want to be uniform throughout the state. They don't want people in Milwaukee to have an advantage or people in Madison to have an advantage. Obviously, what's underlying this is they don't want communities where there are a lot of Democrats to be able to vote early," Mayor Barrett said.

When these issues were discussed a year ago in the Legislature, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos argued current laws were too loose.

"We are doing everything we can to allow people the opportunity to vote. Every single person has the right to vote, and that`s why we`ve gone to extreme measures to guarantee that everybody has a chance," Vos said.

According to Mayor Barrett's Office, 35,200 people cast in-person absentee ballots in the 2012 presidential election.

He says under the proposed bill's restrictions, that would mean the city clerk would have to process an early ballot every nine seconds.

"You can see what the goal is here. The goal is just to jam up the city. Have people furstrated, and wait and leave the polls. That's what's going on here," Mayor Barrett said.

In November 2013, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a similar version of the bill, but not the exact version. So if it passes in the Senate on Tuesday, it would have to go back to the Assembly for another vote, before Gov. Walker could sign it into law.