- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin residents would be able to register to vote online under a bill that passed the Senate’s elections committee Wednesday along party lines.

Though Democrats support online registration, they take issue with the bill’s elimination of special registration deputies, who help register voters in-person up until 20 days before an election. Democrats worry the lack of that assistance could disenfranchise students, seniors and low-income voters.

In an amendment passed 3-2 Wednesday, those deputies would be replaced with new election registration officials, who could register voters at the polls, at residential care facilities or for in-person absentee voting.

“We think online registration actually solves the need for (special registration deputies),” said bill author Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg.

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell called the election registration officials a “partial replacement” for special registration deputies, who go door-to-door and to farmers’ markets and food pantries and “really do important work getting people to register to vote.”

Overall, though, McDonell said, the bill is useful for clerks, streamlining processes and upgrading technology.

“I think most of the clerks are really happy with a lot of the provisions,” McDonell said.

Democratic committee members Sens. Fred Risser of Madison and Mark Miller of Monona, who voted against the bill criticized committee chair LeMahieu for releasing the lengthy amendment just a day prior.

“This is unfair to you, it’s unfair to us, it’s unfair to the public,” Risser said, calling to delay the vote.

In response, Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, said Miller and Risser could have stayed up all night reading the amended bill, as he had.

The committee vote clears the way for a full Senate vote. If approved, electronic registration would be in place by the 2017 spring primary.

The bill would also move up the deadline for receiving absentee ballots by mail to 8 p.m. on Election Day. Currently, absentee ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and must be received in the office by 4 p.m. the following Friday.

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