The Wisconsin State Journal Chris Rickert column
Mar 07, 2013 (The Wisconsin State Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Imagine you're a West Side Madison voter whose local polling place is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Election Day.
Meanwhile, the polling place for one of your East Side buddies is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
That's bogus, right You both live in the same city. Shouldn't you both have the same opportunity to vote for the city's mayor
It's a ridiculous example, of course, but only as ridiculous as framing state Rep. Duey Stroebel's bill on early voting hours as simply another GOP attack on voting rights.
Tweaks to the legislation are in the works, but for now, it would limit early voting to no more than 40 hours per week, between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., on weekdays only.
On its face, it sounds like an attack on larger, Democratic-leaning municipalities such as Madison, whose city clerk has been nice enough to stay open late and on weekends during the two weeks before Election Day.
But early voting has been as big a hit in Madison, which leans Democratic, as it has been in Waukesha, which leans Republican.
Besides, if it's discriminatory to provide West Siders significantly less time to vote for mayor on Election Day, isn't it discriminatory to provide non-Madisonians significantly less time to vote for governor in the two weeks leading up to Election Day
The problem with election laws is that the people who make them are the people whose careers depend on elections.
That's not something a politician would be wise to air publicly, though. So every time one party tries to tinker with how people vote, the other party uses the opportunity to claim its opponents are trying to undermine the sanctity of the vote.
But let's be frank: Democrats and Republicans are concerned mostly with the sanctity of the vote for people who tend to vote for Democrats and Republicans, respectively.
I wouldn't go so far as to say Stroebel's motivations are purely democratic, but his bill could make the state's voting system more fair for everyone, specifically by creating more equal access to the way more of us are choosing to vote these days -- i.e., in person, before Election Day, at our local clerk's office.
Stroebel staffer John Soper told me the intent of the bill is not to make early voting the same statewide; that would be impossible. Clerks in towns and small cities don't have the resources to offer early voting hours comparable to Madison's or other large cities'. Nor are there as many voters.
Rick Stadelman, executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association, said clerks in some sparsely populated towns have day jobs and need to be able to offer early voting on an as-needed basis.
"Keeping that flexibility that we currently have," he said. "We would prefer that."
And Diane Hermann-Brown, who heads the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association Election Communication Committee, said simply limiting early voting to regular city clerks' office hours might be best.
These sound like reasonable changes to something that is increasingly rare these days -- a reasonable elections bill.
Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or email@example.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
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