Milwaukee to more than double early voting sites for 2018 elections

Mary Spicuzza

November 15, 2017

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 

The City of Milwaukee is set to more than double its number of early voting sites.

Aldermen and voting rights advocates announced Wednesday that the city will have eight early voting locations when people head to the polls in 2018.

That would be up from just three early voting sites that were available to city voters in 2016.

The expansion was approved Friday by the Common Council when aldermen voted unanimously to support an amendment adding early voting sites in next year's budget plan.

Mayor Tom Barrett said he worked closely with aldermen to fund additional early voting locations.

"We are excited about expanding this program, because we think it really brings the democracy to the people," Barrett said.

"Voting is a fundamental component of American democracy," said Shauntay Nelson, program manager for Wisconsin Voices. "Democracy works best when eligible voters can participate in the voting process.

Nelson was joined Wednesday at a City Hall news conference by several aldermen as well as Scot Ross, the executive director of One Wisconsin Institute.

"We know that when voters are given the opportunity to vote, that voters vote," Ross said.

A lawsuit filed by One Wisconsin Institute led a federal judge to strike down limits to early voting last year. In that case, U.S. District Judge James Peterson invalidated parts of Wisconsin’s election laws, striking down limits on early voting and prohibitions on allowing people to vote early at multiple sites. He found those and other laws violated people’s voting rights, and that many of them were put in place by Republicans to help their party.

Republican leaders have previously called for restricting early voting, saying access should be more uniform throughout the state's rural and urban areas.

Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton said the budget amendment showed the importance of Milwaukee residents having access to "the voting booth."

"We wanted to have a united voice in saying expanding that access throughout the city is something that we are going to fight for, and it's something that the citizens of the City of Milwaukee can use to help leverage the needs that they have in this city," Hamilton said. "We want the voices of the City of Milwaukee to be heard throughout this state, as well as throughout this country."

Nearly 53,000 city residents participated in early voting in last year's presidential election, a 43% increase compared with 2012. But overall, the city saw a decline of some 41,000 voters in the 2016 election compared with 2012.

Neil Albrecht, executive director of the city's Election Commission, has said Wisconsin's voter ID law and changes to registration requirements caused problems at the polls in the city and likely contributed to lower voter turnout.

"We wanted to bring the polls, the voting sites, to our communities to increase the voter turnout," said Ald. José Pérez.

Locations for the city's early voting sites have not yet been decided.