With just one vote to spare, Republicans who control the state Senate on Wednesday passed a series of hotly contested election law changes, including disallowing casting early votes on the weekends or past 7 p.m. in the two weeks leading up to an election. All 15 Democrats were joined by Republican Sen. Dale Schultz, who is not seeking re-election, in voting against the bills. All six proposals, which also included measures to delay asbestos lawsuits and limit liability for parents of teen drivers, passed 17-16. Democrats, who used a procedural move Tuesday to delay the final votes until Wednesday morning, renewed their arguments that Republicans were trying to make it more difficult for people to vote, particularly minorities in Milwaukee and Madison. “It screams of backward-thinking mentality, all the way back to Jim Crow and you should be ashamed,” said Democratic Sen. Lena Taylor, of Milwaukee, who is black. Jim Crow laws dating back to the 19th century mandated segregation in some U.S. states.
Taylor was speaking against a bill that would bar early voting on the weekend and limit it to no more than 45 hours in each of the two weeks prior to an election between the hours of 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Republican backers, who chose not to speak Wednesday, said during Tuesday’s debate that the bill was about fairness, arguing that rural areas don’t have the money or ability that larger cities do to hold extended in-person absentee hours.
The Legislature should be working to expand voting opportunities, not reduce options, Democratic opponents argued. Republicans were clearly trying to dampen Democratic turnout, opponents to the bill said.