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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

 6:30 PM 

Senate enters lengthy debate on limited in-person absentee hours

The Senate has started a long debate on limits to absentee voting hours, as Democrats have offered several amendments to alter the bill.

The bill would limit “early 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. 

The Assembly version of the bill would have set hours of 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. If a municipality offered 30 or fewer hours a week, the clerk or an election official could conduct in-person absentee voting any time Monday through Friday if they witness it; that would not be allowed under the Senate amendment. 

Democrats have argued during debate that the bill not only discourages young people from getting interested in voting, but was a needless provision that is only going to make lines longer at the polls.

Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, said the GOP was "arrogantly" using its powers to limit voting opportunities and said the bills on the floor were an attempt to suppress voters who don't share their views.

"This is not a government that belongs to the people, its a government that belongs to the special interests," Jauch said.

Jauch was warned on those comments that he is not to impugn members of the chamber with such allegations. He closed his remarks my saying that if he offended any GOP members, they should take comfort "that I didn't say what I really feel."

Republicans have argued they're trying to create a uniform system for in-person absentee voting, and that larger municipalities have an unfair advantage over smaller municipalities, who don't have the resources to offer the same amount of in-person absentee voting hours. Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, said they have to rein in larger municipalities rather than punishing small municipalities. 

"We are not going to have, in essence, polls open for weeks on end in rural townships that don't even have a full-time staffer right now," Grothman said.

UPDATE 7:30 p.m.: After about an hour and a half of debate, the Senate tabled a Dem amendment to the main GOP amendment to the bill on a party line vote.

Jauch made his vote after coming back onto the floor late, and asked if his vote was a privilege or a right, which got groans from GOP members and a "Come on" from one the senators.

Now we're on the second amendment to the main GOP amendment. This amendment, from Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, mandates the state reimburse municipalities for half the cost for additional help in administering in-person absentee balloting. It also encourages in-person absentee voting in statewide elections.

Fitzgerald has said the measure helps "put our money where our mouth is," though Dem Sen. Julia Lassa, D-Stevens Point, said it doesn't change the fact that the main bill limiting voting access.

UPDATE 7:53 p.m.: After a little more debate, the main amendment 1 and Fitzgerald's amendment are both approved, meaning they're incorporated into the bill.

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