A bill that would limit the hours and days voters can cast in-person absentee ballots will be amended, its author said Tuesday, but the changes failed to assuage some municipal clerks concerned about its impact.
Rep. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, said the changes will allow small town clerks to make appointments with voters to cast such ballots beyond normal business hours and on weekends. Stroebel also plans to amend the bill to add another hour during the work day in which voters could cast ballots at their local clerk's office, to 6 p.m. from the original 5 p.m. Those hours, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., would apply to the three weeks leading up to an election week.
Stroebel said he introduced Assembly Bill 54 in response to "a small handful of municipalities" that offered expanded office hours for in-person absentee voting in the last election. Madison and Milwaukee, traditional Democratic strongholds, were among those cities. In all, 514,115 people cast in-person absentee ballots in the November election, according to the Government Accountability Board.
"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," Stroebel said in a statement. "There is room for reasonable flexibility for municipalities, while still ensuring equal and fair opportunities to vote statewide."
But the president of the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association and the chairwoman of the Milwaukee Election Commission both said Tuesday that the revised bill fails to achieve the uniformity and fairness that Stroebel says he's seeking. Waterford Village Clerk Vikki Zuehlke said small municipalities can't afford to stay open for the maximum 40 hours spelled out in the bill. And clerks of larger communities such as hers can't afford to make private appointments with voters beyond the 40 hours they already work.
"My biggest concern is legislation cannot be written as one size fits all," Zuehlke said. "The clerks that work in their communities know what works for them."
Stephanie Findley, chairwoman of the Milwaukee Election Commission, said thousands of people use in-person absentee voting in Milwaukee. And restricting hours will mean longer lines, she said.
"We need to have as many opportunities as possible for people to participate," Findley said. "Is the point to make it so people don't want to come out and vote?"