The state Senate passed a series of controversial election reform bills in the last floor period of the session Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, despite heated objections from the Democratic minority.

After a vote to move the election bills to the end of the debate schedule Tuesday night, which the Republicans said would increase efficiency, Democrats criticized the majority for trying to push the bills through at the last minute.

“People don’t want us to vote on this in the daylight,” Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, said. “They want us to be able to sneak these bills through so that when the press goes home or people aren’t listening, all the dirty work will be done later on.”

Democrats used a procedural tactic to delay the vote until Wednesday morning.

In addition to a new bill requiring individuals to show a valid photo ID when voting, the Senate also approved measures to limit the times and locations where absentee ballots are available and to expand the pool of poll workers a municipality can draw from during election time.

Republicans contend such legislation is necessary to prevent instances of voter fraud and elections abuse. During the session, they emphasized the importance of election day as a sacred event for American democracy.

“Voting by absentee ballot is a privilege exercised solely outside the traditional safeguards of the polling place,” Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin said, quoting the state statutes. “The Legislature finds that the privilege of voting by absentee ballot must be carefully regulated to prevent the potential for fraud or abuse.”

Democrats responded by saying instances of voter fraud are rare in the state.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said the election bills would take Wisconsin back to the era of Jim Crow laws and disenfranchise large portions of the population.

“People are going to wake up one morning and go to vote and find out they can’t and wonder what happened,” Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said.

Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, said voter ID measures could increase voting irregularities as a result of more complex regulations. She also said these rules are unnecessary because voter information is already recorded during registration.

Erpenbach added the legislation setting limits on absentee voting could hurt senior citizens and college students who are most affected by voting law irregularities.

“I believe, given a student schedule throughout the course of a day or week, adding on top of that possible employment, adding on top of that extracurricular activities, that they won’t have enough time during the ‘normal’ hours that this legislation sets out,” he said.

Democrats also said they were agitated by Gov. Scott Walker’s recent announcement that he would call a special session of the Legislature this summer to review voter ID regulations.

“What we have before us today is legislation that is nothing more than a giant manure pile,” Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, said. “I can only conclude that six weeks ago the Republicans lost their soul when they denied those on BadgerCare the right to have access. Tonight I’m convinced they’ve lost their mind.”

[Photo by Flickr user hjl]