Wisconsin's New Law Only Allows Voting While Most People Are Working

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With Gov. Scott Walker's signature, Wisconsin has a new law on the books prohibiting early voting in the state on the weekends and weekdays after 7 p.m., otherwise known as when most people aren't at work. The measure was opposed by Democratic legislators in the state, especially because turnout for early voting is high in cities like Milwaukee and Madison. Those cities tend to vote for Democrats. 

The new law goes against the recent recommendations of the Commission on Election Administration, a bipartisan panel that released a lengthy report on voter access in January. The panel recommended that states expand, not restrict "alternative ways of voting, such as mail balloting and in-person early voting" in order to avoid hours-long lines at the polls on election day. A majority of states allow for some form of early voting — either by mail or in person — and the commission noted that voters want more, not fewer, early voting options available to them. 

Walker's administration cited the need to create "uniform" hours across the state for early voting as his reason for signing the bill. Previously, Wisconsin allowed clerks to set their own hours, including on the weekends. That's a familiar argument. Ohio used it recently when it eliminated Sunday early voting hours there, prompting criticism from Democrats who said that the hours made it more difficult for minorities and blue collar workers to vote. The lack of Sunday hours also eliminates the possibility of a repeat of 2012's "Souls to the Polls" in the state. "Souls to the Polls" was a get-out-the-vote initiative organized by a coalition of black churches to drive the faithful from the pews to the voting booths during early voting hours on Sundays. 

Walker did veto a few portions of the bill, including a provision that would have allowed for no more than 45 hours total of early voting in a jurisdiction. He also vetoed a part of the bill that would have let the state reimburse jurisdictions for early voting costs. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.