Advocacy groups on Thursday assailed a voter ID law being proposed in the Legislature as unnecessary and unconstitutional.

"Not only would many Nebraskans' constitutional right to vote be limited if the voter ID bill were to be passed, taxpayer dollars would be wasted trying to prevent a problem which doesn’t exist,” said Amy Miller, legal director for the Nebraska chapter of the ACLU in testimony before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

The committee discussed three measures by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist that are part of a Voter Integrity Project being touted by Secretary of State John Gale.

The one (LB662) that caught the ACLU's attention is aimed at increasing the integrity of the election process by addressing two areas that are at higher risk for potential fraud, Krist said.

Among other things, the bill would amend current identification requirements for first-time voters who register by mail. Now, the law lists several forms of acceptable identification, including utility bills and bank statements.

"As these types of documents are more easily altered or forged, LB662 would eliminate such items as appropriate identification for first-time voters that register by mail," Krist said. "Various forms of government identification documents from federal, state or local agencies containing the applicant’s name and address would still be allowed."

Miller would have none of it.

"Proponents have yet to demonstrate that voter fraud is a major issue in Nebraska," she said. “Nebraska has a long tradition of allowing people to define residence with minimal interference from government.

"This voter ID bill would change that and give government more control over a student, a farmer with land in multiple parts of the state and those who move for health treatments.”

Also opposing the bill was Adam Morfeld, executive director and founder of Nebraskans for Civic Reform.

"LB662 addresses a problem that both the secretary of state and the introducer of the legislation admit there is no evidence of in Nebraska," Morfeld said. "We should be focused on modernizing our elections and not creating unnecessary barriers."

Morfeld added that it would disproportionally affect young, low-income and rural voters.

* About half of those who would be affected are younger than 35. One third of those are younger than 30. These voters are highly mobile and often low income and do not always have up-to-date IDs with their current registered address, as required under the law.

* The legislation will have a negative impact on rural voters. Four of the five counties with the highest percentage of affected voters are rural -- Sherman, Dawes, Merrick and Scotts Bluff.

* An estimated 485,569 rural Nebraskans do not have access to a DMV office five days a week to get required valid and current state ID cards with current registered addresses.

Morfeld also said requiring people to pay for state ID cards would amount to an illegal poll tax.

The committee also discussed a bill (LB661) that would require development of an online registration system to allow prospective voters to register through a Secretary of State secure website. The proposed system would be limited to those who have valid driver’s licenses or state ID cards. This limitation is necessary because the applicant agrees to allow the signature from DMV records for voter registration purposes.

The bill would require development of a paperless registration system for those voter registration applications taken at DMV in line with the National Voter Registration Act. The proposed system would allow DMV to electronically transmit completed registrations to the proper county election officials.

Programming costs and software and hardware costs would total about $130,000.

A third bill (LB663) would change provisions regarding elections by mail. The first provision would expand the number of counties that may request that a precinct’s elections be conducted via mail. Current law allows counties with a population of less than 10,000 to apply to have certain precincts eliminate the polling site and vote by mail. The bill would allow any county to do so.

The second provision would expand special election by mail provisions to include additional types of elections. Current statute prohibits special elections by mail if the issue involves a candidate as opposed to economic or other issues. The bill would remove this restriction and allow all special elections to be conducted by mail.

Reach Kevin O'Hanlon at 402-473-2682 or kohanlon@journalstar.com.