Senate committee taking public comments on special elections legislation

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- A senate committee is taking public comments on special elections legislation.

The measure says no special election for a state office can be held after the spring election in a year where that position is up for a vote in that upcoming November election.

The measure is attached or amended to a bill that would allow military members or overseas voters to receive ballots electronically.

"We have a duty to ensure that segments of the population, like military voters, aren't left out of the elections process," Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R - Juneau) said at a public hearing on Wednesday.

The amendment dealing with special elections was added to the bill after a Dane County judge ruled that Governor Walker must call a special election for two legislative seats that have been empty since December.

Fitzgerald testified in favor of the bill. He says limiting when special elections can be held in a year where there are regular elections will cut down on voter confusion and municipal costs.

"Holding two special elections while the regularly scheduled elections are proceeding on schedule and as planned is, I think, a waste of taxpayer money," Fitzgerald said. ""We, as a legislature, would be hard pressed to convince any clerk around state that a concurrent, additional election to a legislative seat in which a race is already being run makes sense logistically."

State Representative Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) testified against the provision of the bill dealing with special elections. He said the special election for the seats left vacant in December should have been held during this spring election for little to no extra cost, giving voters in those districts representation.

"I would hope that at an absolute minimum you would recognize the invaluable right that people have to be represented. It is vital to our democracy," Barca said. "To disenfranchise people through trying to put off this election, through going to court and having you here trying to pass this provision is abhorrent to our democracy and it offends me."

The former head of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Michael Haas spoke at the public hearing to give information to the Senate committee. He said it is difficult to calculate how much money a special election costs a district.

The elections commission says the 2017 spring general election in Senate District 1 cost $234,876 and for Assembly District 42 it cost $71,729.

In December, the State Representative from Assembly District 42 stepped down to take a position in the Walker administration. In that same month, the State Senator for Senate District 1 also stepped down to take a position in the Walker administration.

Kathleen Finnerty, who lives in Door County, testified against the bill on Wednesday. Her district has been without representation in the State Senate since December.

"It's not honoring the people who pay taxes here who expect to have a Senator," Finnerty said. "They want our participation in our democracy and we want to that but we have no one to do it with. We have no one bringing our ideas forward. It's just not fair to us. It's just not right."

Fitzgerald argued that voters in Senate District 1 and Assembly District 42 have representation in at least one of the houses of the legislature.

This bill now heads to an executive session. It could be up on the floor for a Senate vote as soon as next Wednesday.