Gov. Scott Walker signed a controversial early voting bill Thursday, that will limit the times during which in-person absentee voting can be conducted.

Under the new law, in-person absentee ballot applications will be accepted no earlier than the third Monday preceding the election, and then only on weekdays Monday to Friday between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.

Walker issued a partial veto of the bill, eliminating the limitation of 45 hours per week for absentee voting as well as the requirement of providing compensation for individuals assisting with absentee voting procedures.

“I am pleased that Gov. Walker has put in place uniform hours for early absentee voting,” Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a statement.  “The legislation gives local governments the needed flexibility while maintaining fairness in our elections. Just as the voting hours on election day are standard throughout the state, early absentee voting hours will now be the same no matter where you reside, and that is good for Wisconsin.”

Democrats in the Legislature criticized the law, saying it would make it more difficult for students and seniors to access the ballot box, as they are the groups most likely to be affected by voting irregularities.

The Democratic legislators also said Republicans wanted to delay voting on election reform until late in the session, so the new regulations could be passed without the public’s attention.

“Rather than working to create jobs, improve our economy or strengthen our middle class, Gov. Walker’s top priority today was to make it much more difficult for people to vote,” Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said in a statement. “And instead of doing the right thing and outright rejecting strict new limits on early voting, the governor took a disgraceful bill and made it simply terrible. It’s as if the governor’s party took a wrecking ball to the house of democracy and the governor claimed he made it better by tying a pink ribbon on the porch.”

Walker will call a special session of the Legislature to further address the issue of election reform, specifically in regard to voter ID requirements, early this summer.

[Photo by Flickr user liz west]