A Republican lawmaker seeking to limit in-person absentee voting hours proposed changes to his bill Tuesday after hearing criticism from constituents, fellow lawmakers and municipal clerks.
Rep. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, said in a statement he was amending the bill he circulated this week after hearing concerns from a number of people. But Vikki Zuehlke, president of the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association, said the bill may still need a little “tweaking.”
The bill would limit the time people can vote early or submit an in-person absentee ballot. His bill initially called for clerks to only accept ballots from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, although Stroebel changed it to 6 p.m.
Stroebel also added a provision that would allow people to make appointments with municipal clerks if they wanted to submit a ballot after 6 p.m. or on the weekend.
He said in a statement the bill would ensure everyone in the state has an equal opportunity to vote, since it would end a practice from some municipalities to keep their offices open later.
“This bill was revised to reflect the suggestions offered by a myriad of people,” Stroebel said. “The overarching goal has always been to standardize voting statewide to make the voting process more equal and fair, and I believe that this bill does just that. There is room for reasonable flexibility for municipalities, while still ensuring equal and fair opportunities to vote statewide.”
Stroebel’s bill makes no changes in absentee voting by mail or the hours polls are open on Election Day.
Zuehlke said if small towns can have some flexibility in the process, that will likely work for them. But, she said she is not sure whether what works for small towns would work the same in larger cities such as Madison and Milwaukee. She added legislators need to consider the effects such a law would have on all municipalities if a bill like this passes.
Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said she still had some concerns about the bill, noting, even with the changes, there would be longer lines at the polls.
She said six people can currently take ballots in her office. If the amendments had been in place for the November elections, she said she would have met with about 2,000 people to get their ballots.
Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood, said in a statement about the original bill that it would “curtail democracy” and that Republicans need to realize the state’s problem is not that it has “too many people voting.”
One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross, who criticized the bill, said Stroebel’s changes are not significant.
“Certainly his intent is clear and that he wants to deny legal voters their ability to access the franchise in the way they want to access it,” Ross said. “This bill is absolutely not needed. There is no reason for it. He did not solicit information from people who are administering elections.”
Ross said in-person absentee voting is one of the reasons Wisconsin has such a high voter turnout rate. He added this bill is aimed at preventing people in cities to vote, especially minorities and college students, as many city residents vote absentee.