MADISON — Recalling the governor and others from office in Wisconsin would be more difficult, in-person absentee voting hours would be restricted and photo identification would be required to cast a ballot under a flurry of divisive measures the state Assembly plans to pass today.
The elections bills aren’t the only hot-button issues the Republican-controlled chamber plans to approve on its final session day of the year. Also slated for passage are proposals limiting the public’s access to a proposed iron ore site in northern Wisconsin and undoing the 124-year-old practice of having the most senior member of the state Supreme Court serve as chief justice.
Democrats oppose the proposals and plan to push debate into the early morning hours, but they don’t have the votes to stop the bills.
Instead, Democrats plan to use the opportunity to argue that Republicans’ priorities are misplaced.
“The Assembly Republicans are concerned about lowering the voter turnout as opposed to creating jobs,” said Democratic Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa of Milwaukee. “The problem in Wisconsin is not too many people voting; it is too few people working.”
Assembly Republicans have been leading the charge on the elections issues. The Assembly is voting on requiring photo ID at the polls, even though the Republican leader of the Senate said he won’t take up the measure while current law is tied up in the courts.
It’s also unclear how much support there is in the Republican-led Senate for the other elections proposals being voted on today, including one that limits in-person absentee voting hours. No one has registered in support of the idea, but its opponents include the cities of Milwaukee and Madison, the League of Women Voters and the Wisconsin Towns Association.
The proposal would prohibit in-person absentee voting on the weekends or during the week before 7:30 a.m. or after 6 p.m., unless a voter makes an appointment with the local election clerk.
In-person absentee voting has become more popular in recent years as municipalities, including the heavily Democratic cities of Milwaukee and Madison, have extended hours into the evening and on weekends near an election. More than 500,000 people cast their ballots in the clerk’s office before the November 2012 election in Wisconsin, according to figures from the Government Accountability Board.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, has argued it is needed to make sure there are consistent poll hours across the state.
“Why should a voter from anywhere else in Wisconsin have less ability to vote than voters in Milwaukee or Madison?” Stroebel said in an editorial he wrote in support of the bill. “Should we say that the voters in the rest of the state are ‘suppressed’ due to the practices in places like Milwaukee and Madison?”
Elections officials in those two cities have said the extended hours help alleviate long lines on Election Day. They and other opponents of the bill argue that the restrictions being proposed will only create more confusion across the state.
The Assembly also plans to take up a pair of measures that would make it more difficult to see a repeat of the flood of recall elections Wisconsin experienced in 2011 and 2012.
One, a constitutional amendment, would prohibit voters from recalling the governor or other state officeholders unless they’ve been charged with a felony or an ethics violation. A bill placing the same requirement on recalls of local officials is also up for a vote.
Wisconsin is one of 18 states that allows for recalls of state elected officials. Of those, seven limit the reasons for recall to malfeasance in office.
Gov. Scott Walker won his recall election in 2012, becoming the first governor in U.S. history to do so. Thirteen state senators, 10 of them Republicans, faced recalls over those two years as well.
All of the recalls were spurred by anger over Walker’s proposal, passed by the Republican Legislature, taking away the ability of most public workers to collectively bargain over anything other than base wages.
The proposed constitutional amendment would have to pass the full Legislature two sessions in a row and be approved in a statewide vote. The soonest that could happen is 2015.
The elections bills would head to the Senate for consideration next year. The mining access bill and the proposed changes to the chief justice selection process have already cleared the Senate.