Voter ID constitutional amendment considered

Nebraskans would be asked to decide whether voters must show identification under a measure considered March 2 by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist49' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. John Murante'>Sen. John Murante</a>
Sen. John Murante

LR1CA, introduced by Gretna Sen. John Murante, would place a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2018 general election ballot. If approved, the amendment would require voters in Nebraska to present an ID containing a photograph or digital image prior to casting a ballot.

The Legislature would be tasked with determining the specifics of the voter ID requirement through enabling legislation.

Murante said that 32 states have some form of voter ID requirement and that the proposed amendment would be a first step in determining if Nebraska wishes to join that group. Approximately 70 percent of people polled in the state support voter ID, he said, and nearly half of all Americans believe that their vote is being diluted by voter fraud.

“The threat that we have today is a lack of confidence in the integrity of our election systems,” Murante said. “[This measure] is introduced for the purposes of giving the voters of Nebraska a voice in whether voter ID should be the law of the land.”

Doug Kagan of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom testified in support of the measure, saying that any burden that voter ID would place on citizens would be minor and outweighed by the need to make sure that only legitimate votes are cast.

“Currently, anyone can walk into a polling place, write in your name and address and vote under your name,” he said. “We believe that it’s incumbent upon the state Legislature to preserve the integrity of the voting process.”

James Sazama of Omaha also supported the proposal. He said that a recent Kansas election resulted in 221 cases of voter fraud that were not fully investigated due to a lack of time and resources among county attorneys. A similar situation could be happening in Nebraska, he said, but without voter ID there is no way to know.

“In the past decade, important elections have become more competitive with key races won by very slim margins,” he said, noting an Omaha legislative race that was won by only 14 votes.

Calling a voter ID requirement “common sense,” Lee Todd of Lincoln also testified in support. Anyone can afford a photo ID, he said, and lawful voters won’t be deterred by the requirement.

“So many activities in our communities today require photo IDs,” he said. “We know that photo IDs are ridiculously cheap, as evidenced by the fact that it’s virtually impossible to find anyone without one.”

Major Dewayne Mays, representing the Lincoln Branch of the NAACP, testified in opposition to the proposal. The Nebraska secretary of state has consistently reported that voter impersonation is not a problem in the state, he said, and the proposed ballot amendment would require additional costs to inform the public of voter ID requirements and implementation of a new election system at a time when the state is facing a budget crisis.

In addition, he said, the requirement would place an undue burden on the state’s most vulnerable populations who often lack the resources to comply, including the elderly, low-income individuals and young people who move frequently.

“The amendment appears to be an underhanded way of trying to force [voter ID] upon the citizens of the state in spite of a refusal by the Legislature to pass such bills after a number of unsuccessful attempts,” Mays said.

Bri McLarty Huppert of Nebraskans for Civic Reform, also opposed the measure. Several studies have shown a link between voter ID requirements and lower voter turnout among minority groups, she said, and the state should focus its efforts on encouraging, rather than discouraging, civic participation.

“We all understand that the right to vote is fundamental,” she said, “The next question we should ask ourselves is what policies should the Legislature invest in and how should we spend our money to preserve that right?”

Scott Kurz, testifying on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League in Omaha, said any change to voting rights in Nebraska should be made with utmost consideration of the impact on all voters and be undertaken only if there is a demonstrated need for change.

“An unsubstantiated argument for voter fraud drums up fear and division and this in itself creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of a lack of confidence in our democracy,” Kurz said. “And this committee should not exacerbate that without clear evidence to support that voter fraud is actually a rampant threat to our democracy.”

The committee took no immediate action on LR1CA.

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