Opponents assail voter ID bill

2012-02-21T22:00:00Z Opponents assail voter ID billBy KEVIN O'HANLON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
February 21, 2012 10:00 pm  • 

A broad coalition of groups is battling a measure aimed at fighting voter fraud by requiring Nebraska voters to show identification before casting ballots.

Members of the coalition packed the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday to protest in advance of first-round debate on the measure (LB239) by Fremont Sen. Charlie Janssen.

Larry Dix, executive director of the Nebraska Association of County Officials (NACO), said the bill is not needed.

"Little or no evidence has been reported to our counties that voter fraud is happening in Nebraska," Dix said. "This is a poor solution looking for a problem that certainly does not rise to the level where we should expend property tax dollars."

The coalition is comprised of at least 23 groups, including NACO, AARP Nebraska, the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska, Bold Nebraska, the Center for People in Need, Common Cause Nebraska, Nebraska ACLU, Nebraska Advocacy Services, Nebraska Appleseed and Nebraskans for Civic Reform.

Janssen said he was disappointed with the coalition groups.

"It's obvious that they didn't consult their membership on this, especially with many polls in Nebraska and nationwide running from 70 to 80 percent in support of voter ID laws," he said. "Voter ID laws were recommended by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker in the 2005 Commission on Federal Election Reform. Indiana's Voter ID law, on which LB239 was based, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008."

Janssen's proposal was introduced last year and originally would have required people to show ID when they vote as a way to head off voter fraud and ensure Nebraska uses what he calls the "best practices" when holding elections.

But opponents said that would disenfranchise some voters -- particularly the poor, the elderly and minorities -- who do not have driver's licenses, because they would have to pay $26.50 to get state-issued photo IDs. They said requiring people to buy a state ID in order to vote would amount to an illegal poll tax.

Janssen has since amended the bill to require the Secretary of State to inform local election commissioners how many people in their counties are registered to vote but do not have driver's licenses or state ID cards. The bill would require local election commissioners to mail those people so-called "acknowledgment of registration," which would allow them to vote. There are an estimated 30,000 such voters statewide. Mailing the acknowledgments would cost 50 cents each, he said.

Voters without IDs or acknowledgment cards would be given provisional ballots that would not be counted until their voter registration was verified.

That didn't sit well with Common Cause.

"If LB239 were to pass without funding for public education, thousands of voters would show up without proper ID," said spokesman Jack Gould. "It would result in thousands of provisional votes to be certified or thousands of frustrated voters going home mad."

Dix said the bill would cost counties hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement.

"NACO has contacted counties and received an estimated cost running anywhere between 15 cents and 55 cents per registered voter per election to implement the changes in LB239 as amended," Dix said. "While some may think this is a small amount, it is an ongoing cost for all future elections."

Adam Morfeld, executive director of Nebraskans for Civic Reform, said: "Nebraska has a long history of not discriminating against and disenfranchising voters based on their mobility, disability, or socioeconomic status, and Nebraskans are understandably disturbed by these laws."

Morfeld has said Janssen fails to take into consideration the cost of printing and processing more provisional ballots, increased poll worker training and hiring additional staff, among other things. He also said only people who are in the voter registration database but do not have Nebraska driver's licenses or ID cards would receive free registration cards every two years. He said an estimated 130,000 Nebraskans have invalid Nebraska IDs that do not list their current addresses.

Said Janssen: "I have spoken to many poll workers who are insulted by the implication that it's going to cost many thousands of dollars to train them on the changes on voter ID. They told me it is a simple concept, and one that is long overdue."

The coalition against Janssen's bill also includes: Black Men United; ADAPT NE -- Statewide Living Council; the American Association of University Women; ARC of Nebraska; Douglas County Board of Commissioners; the Latino American Commission; NAACP of Lincoln and Omaha; the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs; the Nebraska League of Women Voters; the Nebraska State Education Association; the North Omaha Voter Participation Project; and the Progressive Research Institute.

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

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