Voter ID bills discussed

The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee heard joint testimony Jan. 23 on two bills that would require voter ID in Nebraska.

LB111, introduced by O’Neill Sen. Tyson Larson, would require voters to provide a government-issued photographic identification before voting. Under the bill, either a driver’s license or state ID card issued by the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) would be required.

If a voter indicates that he or she is indigent, the DMV would offer a state identification card at no cost for purposes of voting under the Election Act.

Voters casting a ballot in elections held by mail or who vote early would not be required to provide a photo ID unless it was their first time voting. A voter who does not present a valid ID at the polls would be permitted to cast a provisional ballot.

Larson said Nebraskans overwhelmingly support requiring ID to vote as a means of safeguarding the electoral process.

“I introduced this legislation in order to further protect the integrity and reliability of our elections,” he said, adding that the bill’s provisions would not place an undue burden on voters.

“Ninety-eight percent of Nebraska registered voters already possess a driver’s license or state ID card,” Larson said.

Under LB121, introduced by Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher, voters without government-issued photo ID would be required to sign a statement verifying their name and current address and submit to being photographed at the polling place or obtain a written certification from a poll worker that he or she was personally known to them.

The bill also would require a secret-ballot envelope in which to place mail-in ballots that he said would maintain the anonymity of the voter.

Voting by mail has become increasing popular in Nebraska, Schumacher said, and is the only method of voting available in some counties. Under the current system, he said, a ballot is placed in a return envelope that includes the voter’s name and address—thus it is not a secret ballot.

“The language of the bill is very simple,” Schumacher said. “Use an inside sleeve or envelope, and if it costs a penny or two more—or a minute or two more in the processing—that’s the price of an election.”

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach testified in support of LB111, saying there is strong empirical evidence that voter ID laws do not suppress voter turnout. For example, he said, Kansas experienced higher voter turnout after enacting voter ID requirements.

In addition, Kobach said, only 838 out of 1.2 million Kansas voters showed up at their polling place without a photo ID in the 2012 general election.

“It is not an imposition,” Kobach said. “It is, I believe, a very reasonable request that someone bring a photo ID.”

Doug Kagan of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom also testified in support of LB111, saying a photo ID is required to rent a movie or vehicle and to cash a check or board a plane. A photo ID also should be required to vote, he said.

“Currently, anyone can walk into a polling place, give your name and address, sign with your signature and vote with your name,” Kagan said.

Bri McLarty, director of voting rights for Nebraskans for Civic Reform, testified in opposition to both bills. The ID requirements disproportionally would impact rural voters, she said, adding that some rural DMV offices are open only once a month or are not open over the noon hour.

In addition, she said, increasing the number of provisional ballots will increase the cost of elections.

“Other states are spending millions on this kind of legislation,” McLarty said.

Amy Miller of ACLU Nebraska also testified in opposition to LB111 and the voter ID provisions of LB121. She said the courts repeatedly have ruled that vague concerns about voter fraud cannot justify placing burdens on the constitutional right to vote.

“The burden is on the government to prove that the voter ID law is necessary,” she said, adding that there have been “zero examples” of voter fraud in Nebraska.

“Until you have a record of fraud, this bill should not be advanced forward,” Miller said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bills.

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