GOP leader wants early voting limits

November 4, 2016



Madison — With a July ruling by a federal judge allowing expanded early voting this month in cities, the GOP leader of the state Assembly said he wants legislation next year to standardize and restrict early voting to make it more similar in rural and urban areas.

“We’re probably going to have to look at it again to make sure that everybody in the state has the same chance to vote,” said Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).

In July, U.S. District Court Judge James Peterson in Madison struck down a series of voting limits passed by GOP Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers. His decision, which is being appealed, flatly rejected claims by Republicans that they were trying to make early voting hours uniform, saying they were attempting to help themselves at the polls.

Since then, Democratic strongholds like Madison and Milwaukee have expanded their early voting locations, hours and days for voters and seen an increase in absentee ballots. Early voting in Milwaukee’s GOP suburbs has lagged, though it has been catching up in recent days.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) said Republicans would risk more legal setbacks if they tried to restrict early voting again. He said they were trying to suppress Democratic turnout.

“Republicans don’t want early voting because they suck at early voting,” Erpenbach said. “It’s not an advantage (for Democrats); it’s the law. And when things don’t go the way Republicans want, they change the law.”

In July, Peterson ruled the restrictions on early voting were unconstitutional because they intentionally discriminated against minorities.

“I reach this conclusion because I am persuaded that this law was specifically targeted to curtail voting in Milwaukee without any other legitimate purpose,” Peterson wrote. “The Legislature’s immediate goal was to achieve a partisan objective, but the means of achieving that objective was to suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African-Americans.”

Vos pointed out that a number of other states have limits on early voting and that, in the wake of Peterson’s ruling, Wisconsin has no uniformity on early voting, leaving each municipality to decide when to allow it. Thirteen states don’t have early voting and require an excuse from voters requesting an absentee ballot, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Assembly leader said Republicans would look at Peterson’s ruling and other states to ensure that their legislation would hold up to legal challenges.

“It shouldn’t be up to an unelected judge to have the final say,” Vos said.

Republicans put limits on early voting in 2011 and further tightened them in 2014. The restrictions limited early voting to weekdays between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. — thus ending weekend voting that had long been popular among Latinos and African Americans.

Peterson also found requiring early voting to occur at only one location was unconstitutional because it put a greater burden on voters in Milwaukee and other large cities, where many minorities live. It is much easier for a small town to accommodate voters with a single location than Milwaukee and other urban centers, he wrote.

The lawsuit against the voting rules was brought by the liberal group One Wisconsin Now. Its executive director, Scot Ross, said the statements by Vos suggested Republicans realize they may not get Peterson’s ruling on the voting rules overturned.

“Vos and the Republicans are once again showing their contempt for our democracy and that the only fraud in Wisconsin elections is partisan politicians like Vos who are trying to rig the rules on voting to gain an unfair partisan advantage,” Ross said. “We’re seeing record early voting, so what rational basis would Robin Vos have for saying this is a bad thing?”