Assembly Republicans used the final regular session day of the year Thursday to push their proposals that would make it more difficult to remove public officials from office, require photo identification at the polls and limit hours of in-person absentee voting. Democrats, who opposed all the measures but didn’t have the votes to stop them, argued against the changes as an infringement on voter rights and attempt to quash Democratic supporters. Republican leaders defended the proposals, saying they would protect the integrity of the election process by allowing recalls only when those targeted have committed a serious crime, combat fraud by requiring photo identification and install a more uniform system for in-person absentee voting hours statewide. The Assembly isn’t the last stop for any of the hot-button elections issues. All would also have to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, and the change to the recall law for statewide officials would be put to a statewide vote. The soonest that could happen is 2015. The recall measure passed 53-39 with all Democrats opposed.
Limiting recalls to only those charged with a felony or ethical violation is a reasonable restriction from current law, where the governor and state office holders can be targeted for any reason, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said.
“This is a common-sense solution to a problem we saw in the past few years,” said Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, sponsor of the constitutional amendment.
Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and 13 state senators, 10 of them Republicans, faced recall elections in 2011 and 2012. None were charged with a crime before the votes.
All of them were targeted because of their positions on Walker’s proposal, passed by the Republican Legislature, that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers.
“It’s a democratic right of people to be heard, and it’s something that should not be suppressed or removed,” said Democratic Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, arguing against the recall proposal.