GOP Bill Restricting Early Voting Hours Heads To Gov’s Desk

Absentee ballot from the 2012 presidential election
An absentee ballot from the 2012 presidential election. Michael Leland/WPR

A Republican bill that would restrict early voting hours in Wisconsin is now headed to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk after it passed the state Assembly early Friday morning.

The bill would limit in-person early absentee voting at a city clerk’s office to 45 hours a week. Weekend voting would be banned. Chippewa Falls Republican state Rep. Kathy Bernier says the bill is in line with what Wisconsin intended when it passed its first absentee voting law in the mid ’80s. That law reads, in part:

“That the privilege of voting by absentee ballot must be carefully regulated to prevent the potential for fraud or abuse.”

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Republicans made no allegations that any kind of fraud was occurring in absentee voting right now, however, saying only that they wanted uniform polling hours. Democrats balked at that, saying the real reason for the bill was that early voting was popular in Democratic strongholds with large minority populations.

Democrat Cory Mason of Racine asked Republicans what was so different about early voting compared to the absentee ballots many of them had cast over the years.

“Lots of people here have taken the opportunity to vote early,” Mason said. “So why would you want to restrict their ability to vote early? Because you don’t like how they vote, and you don’t like who’s voting.”

The plan is now in Gov. Walker’s hands to sign or veto. Walker has not yet said where he stands on the issue. It’s not the first time Republicans have cut back on early voting: in the last session, they trimmed it from three weekends before an election to just one weekend.