The debate over whether the state Constitution should require photo identification before future voters could cast ballots ended abruptly Thursday morning less than an hour after it began.

Sen. John Murante of Gretna, who brought the proposed constitutional amendment (LR1CA), said a deluge of floor amendments and priority motions by opponents to the measure had sunk the proposal under an obstructionist wave.

"We're not going to be able to have a rational discussion about how to put in basic protections into our election laws to ensure people are who they say they are and live where they say they live," Murante said as he introduced his own motion to end debate on LR1CA just before lunch.

"Not on this floor."

The fight over whether to put a proposed voter ID amendment before voters on the general election ballot this November was predicted to draw an intense debate lasting well into Thursday afternoon.

Just as soon as Murante, who has sponsored previous bills that would have required photo IDs to cast a vote in Nebraska's elections, introduced the proposal, opponents launched a counterattack.

Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld, who introduced several amendments to Murante's proposal that would have substantively changed its language and meaning, said requiring an ID card to vote would have impeded thousands of Nebraskans from exercising a constitutional right.

He said Nebraska's state Constitution already has broad protections meant to keep the state's elections open to all citizens, and that requiring an ID would be akin to assessing a poll tax on specific groups, such as the elderly and those who live in poverty.

Plus, Morfeld added, individuals who sought to impersonate other voters would need to learn their victim's address, pray the poll workers didn't recognize the name when they signed in to vote, and hope their victim didn't also show up and discover that someone had voted in their place.

"You and I are more likely to be struck by lightning twice than become a victim of voter fraud," Morfeld said.

Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, whose district includes the neighborhoods surrounding Offutt Air Force Base where hundreds of military men and women live, said Murante did not address a real problem and the issue was not of concern to many Nebraskans.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln said contrary to Murante's assertion that people in coffee shops all over the state supported implementing new voter ID rules, she had yet to hear anyone tell her it was needed.

She said the proposal was racist, costly and would suppress voter turnout.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, who has been a fervent opponent to voter ID laws in the past, did not get a chance at the microphone, but his presence was felt in the chamber.

As Murante responded to arguments, Chambers, who sits two rows in front of Murante, turned around and stared at him.

Murante said he would not be cowed by Chambers, and said there was no stare-down that would get him to back down on the issue. "The more you fight me, the more my constituents back in Sarpy County back me," Murante told Chambers.

Chambers also introduced a pair of amendments that would have changed the wording of the proposal to read: "Some elections shall be free; and there shall be no hindrance or impediment to the right of a qualified white voter to exercise the elective franchise reserved for white citizens."

With a lunch break nearing, and the promise of opponents lining up for a lengthy afternoon legislative brawl, Murante shut off debate.

The eighth consecutive attempt to implement voter ID failed, maintaining Nebraska as the 17th state — including Washington D.C. — to not require voters produce any documents before they can vote.

Before asking for a cloture vote, Murante issued a warning to his fellow senators, however.

While they may have had enough votes to sustain a filibuster, Murante said supporters of a voter ID law outnumbered its opponents, both inside the Capitol and across the state.

"There will come a day colleagues, I assure you, when this issue will be taken out of the hands of legislators and the people will have an opportunity to vote on this themselves," he promised.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.


Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

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