Republicans pass early voting bill, Dems call it "voter suppression"

MADISON (WITI) -- On Wednesday, March 12th, the Senate finished a contentious debate that began on Tuesday at the state Capitol in Madison. Republican senators voted to restrict early voting across the state, as Democrats claimed the real motivation was "voter suppression."

One after another on Wednesday at the state Capitol, Democratic senators assailed a Republican proposal that would allow for the standardization of early voting hours across the state of Wisconsin.

"This bill suppresses the vote in the entire state," Sen. Mark Miller (D-Madison) said.

"The world has changed.  Ozzie and Harriet have gone to meet their maker.  The 1950s aren't here anymore," Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) said.

"They have done a phenomenal job of creating fear through deception," Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) said.

The bill ends early/absentee voting on weekends. Early voting on weekends is something that has been popular in the state's larger cities -- like Madison and Milwaukee.

If approved and signed by Gov. Walker, the bill 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.

"It is so sad that we are burying democracy in Wisconsin, while men and women are in Afghanistan doing what they can to protect the interests of a country trying to get to a stable democracy," Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) said.

Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) gave an impassioned speech on Wednesday -- implying the bill has racial undertones.

"If it looks like a duck, it quacks like a duck, then it's probably a duck," Sen. Taylor said.

Saying the bill has brought back the "Jim Crow" days, Taylor argued the bill would scale back constitutional rights.

"I feel like I'm in 1906 -- fighting the same fights people who came long before me had to fight. I feel like I'm fighting the fights, to just make sure people have access to the ability to vote," Sen. Taylor said.

Republicans argued that the current system is unfair to those in rural areas -- saying uniform standards for early voting need to be applied across the state.

"It's difficult for people to turn on Channel 6 in Milwaukee, just to pander to you a little bit, and there's a shot of somebody voting during a period of time when it's not available to that rural area. It's frustrating for people to see that and they say 'why is that going on? Why are there people voting in Milwaukee on a Saturday afternoon when I can't vote in the Town of Clyman. There's nobody there. The town hall is closed and the lights are off,'" Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told FOX6's Mike Lowe.

After about an hour of debate on Wednesday, only one Republican senator -- Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) sided with the Democrats.

The measure passed 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.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has been a big opponent of the bill -- and he's not happy with Wednesday's vote.

"This has everything to do with the fact that the city of Milwaukee and the city of Madison has a higher percentage of people who vote for Democrats. This is all about suppressing the vote," Mayor Barrett said.

According to the Mayor's Office, over 35,000 people in Milwaukee cast in-person absentee ballots in the 2012 presidential election.