Senate committee hears bill to restrict voting hours

Bill has already been approved in the Assembly
Senate committee hears bill to restrict voting hours

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would change when residents can vote.

The bill, already approved in the Assembly, would restrict the number of hours clerks can be open for in-person absentee voting.

The measure says local clerks could only be open for 52.5 hours a week for the two weeks before Election Day, in between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. If they were open less than 30 hours, those time restrictions would be lifted to anytime Monday through Friday.

Authors of the bill said extra hours in cities like Madison and Milwaukee, which typically open for extended and weekend hours during fall elections, are disenfranchising rural voters whose clerk’s offices aren’t open as much.

“Unless we are to allow for voting 24 hours a day seven days a week, some standards must be outlined to ensure that voters in some communities do not posses a systemic advantage over voters in other communities in the form of longer voting hours,” said Rep. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville.

“The reality is this is a restricting bill,” said Mary Oglesby, a bartender from Milwaukee who spoke at a Senate hearing Tuesday. “To say that a smaller community would be disenfranchised by a larger community having extra hours is just a false assumption because if you take away the hours from everyone how does that change anything for the small community? They still don’t have the hours.”

The director of the State Government Accountability Board, Kevin Kennedy, testified that standardizing the total number of hours for local clerks may be helpful by allowing them to know their areas and be open when the most people typically vote. But he suggested allowing Saturday voting and hours from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., which is when polling places are typically open on Election Day.

The bill still needs a vote in committee before heading to the full Senate. Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, said an amendment may be offered that would even more narrowly define voting hours.