The Assembly voted 56-38 to set new statewide standards for early voting amid Dem objections that the legislation sought to suppress the vote in urban areas.
The vote clears the way for the bill to head to the guv's desk, where it faces an uncertain future. When asked about the bill, Gov. Scott Walker has said he will review it when it reaches his desk.
The bill would limit in-person absentee voting to between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday leading up to an election. A municipality would also be limited to 45 hours per week of accepting the in-person absentee ballots.
AB 54 would set a statewide standard for in-person absentee voting of between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. If a municipality offers 30 or fewer hours a week for it, the clerk or an election official can could conduct in-person absentee voting any time Monday through Friday if they witness it.
Rep. Christine Sinicki accused Republicans of using the bill for partisan advantage at the polls. She charged the GOP drew new legislative boundaries ahead of the 2012 elections to guarantee themselves a majority in the Legislature for the next few years. But she noted Dems received thousands more votes than Republicans statewide that year and accused her GOP colleagues of rushing to approve a series of restrictions on voting to help Gov. Scott Walker win re-election this fall.
Ultimately, she said Republicans are trying to cut down turnout in urban areas.
“That’s your goal because that’s where Democratic votes come from. Let’s be honest about it,” Sinicki said.
Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, jabbed Republicans that they should have more lawyers in their ranks because their proposal so blatantly violates the federal Voting Rights Act that they would have counseled them to drop the bill.
Kessler said the bill restricts the ability of minorities to vote in the state's population centers like Milwaukee, Madison and Racine, while predicting a federal judge will throw out the requirement if signed into law.
"You are placing barriers, barriers against minority voters from participating," Kessler said.
Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls and a former county clerk, charged Dems distorted the facts of voting. She said Wisconsin was one of the four states with the highest turnout in 2012 along with Colorado, New Hampshire and Minnesota. She said one allowed no early voting, one had absentee voting with a reason and one collected most of its ballots via the mail.
She said that showed there was no relationship between early voting and turnout.
“It has to do with political advocacy, and these four states were target states for the presidential election, and that is what turns out electors,” she said.