MADISON, Wis. — Legislation before the state Senate today to severely restrict early in-person voting and ban weekend voting in Wisconsin could create more hurdles for minorities, seniors and persons with disabilities who want to exercise their state constitutional right to vote. State election regulators and non-partisan watchdogs have reported serious issues with the accessibility of physical locations used for voting on Election Day and serious delays to vote in many polling places in urban areas.
One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross commented, “There has been an unrelenting assault on voting rights in Wisconsin under Gov. Walker and the Republican legislature. But the legislation before the state Senate today is especially despicable for making it harder for the most vulnerable in our society to exercise their constitutional right to the franchise.”
Under the terms of Senate Bill 324, municipalities would be prohibited from allowing more than 45 hours of early voting per week in the weeks leading up to elections. Clerk’s offices could not be open for voting before 8am or after 7pm and weekend voting hours would be outlawed.
In recent years early in-person voting has become increasingly popular with voters. Nearly 700,000 used early voting in 2012 and the major cities of Wisconsin are all seeing sharp increases in early voting. Milwaukee increased 17 percent from 2008 to 2012, Madison 9 percent. Even more conservative cities like Waukesha and Green Bay saw increases of over 20 percent.
Early voting can be especially important for seniors and persons with disabilities as many Election Day voting locations present accessibility challenges. A June 2013 Government Accountability Board (GAB) audit report indicated it had identified 10,488 problems at 1,614 polling places over the last 3 years. More disturbing, 3,786 were found to be of such severity that they would “likely to prevent an elderly voter or a voter with a disability from entering a polling place and casting a ballot privately and independently.” Well over half (56%) of polling locations audited by the GAB did not have an accessible entrance that was easily identifiable by voters with disabilities
Early in-person voting can help to reduce Election Day congestion at polling places in urban areas with high concentrations of voters. According to the bipartisan Commission on Election Administration, as a general rule, no voter should have to wait more than half an hour to vote. Yet in the 2012 November election Wisconsin Election Protection received a significant number of calls about poll sites regarding long lines.
Ross concluded, “Election Day is the one day we are all supposed to be equal and have a say in the direction of our communities. This latest Republican attempt to restrict early voting would undermine the state constitutional right to vote and the fundamental idea of democracy by making it harder for minorities in urban areas, senior citizens and persons with disabilities to exercise their right to the franchise.”