Sen. John Murante told the Legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday that a plan requiring Nebraskans to show identification before they vote would not exclude any legally entitled voters from casting a ballot.
As part of Murante’s latest proposal (LB1066) to secure the state’s elections, as he put it, Nebraskans would also be entitled to receive a free government ID they could show to poll workers.
LB1066 would work toward two goals Murante, of Gretna, said he wants to see accomplished in the state: preventing illegal votes from being cast while not turning anyone away from the polls who is eligible to vote.
“They are not mutually exclusive and we can accomplish both,” Murante told the committee. “I believe this bill does that.”
Under his plan, Nebraska voters would be required to show a driver’s license, state, college or university-issue ID card, passport or military ID or other designated form of identification before they could cast a ballot in a state election.
Voters without a proper ID could still cast a provisional ballot, but would be required to prove who they are to an election commissioner in person within seven days of voting.
Murante said LB1066 was “substantially modeled” on an Indiana voter ID law that was deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008.
But Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue told Murante she believed the bill would make it hard for African-Americans, Latinos, veterans and first-time voters to cast a ballot.
“I always hear you say that one case of voter fraud is one case too many,” Blood told Murante. “Well one case of somebody not being able to vote is one case too many.”
Providing free identification cards to Nebraskans who don’t have any other ID cards qualifying under LB1066 could cost nearly $3.6 million over the next two years, according to a Legislative Fiscal Office estimate.
Murante cast doubt on that estimate, saying a similar measure implemented in Missouri last year cost well below the original cost projections.
Jay Ashcroft, Missouri’s secretary of state, told the committee that after Missouri voters approved a ballot initiative requiring voter IDs in the 2016 election, more than 400 state identification cards had been issued to voters for roughly $1.5 million of the $4 million to $5 million estimate.
And since it became a requirement, Ashcroft said, Missouri has administered 80 elections without a single voter being turned away.
“We’ve made sure people can have confidence in their elections and know their vote counts,” Ashcroft said. “The purpose of an election is for the voting public of a state to make that decision and for their voice to be heard. These sorts of laws do that.”
Opponents to the bill said while they agreed with Murante’s goals of improving the security of the state’s elections, particularly his efforts to upgrade election technology used throughout the state, they believed requiring photo IDs to vote would do more harm than good.
Spencer Danner, a Democrat running for Nebraska secretary of state, told the committee the costs of implementing voter ID could exceed the $3.5 million estimate due to the cost of educating voters and poll workers on the new system.
Danner said those funds could be better invested in modernizing voter registration, like adding same-day registration and allowing voters to update their information at the polls.
Civil rights groups like Civic Nebraska and the NAACP also opposed LB1066, indicating that requiring voter ID would add an additional hurdle for low-income or disabled voters.
John Cartier, director of voting rights for Civic Nebraska, said mounting evidence shows voter ID bills “will turn away eligible voters, election officials don’t think it will solve real issues, and it has an absolutely massive fiscal note considering our current budget shortfall."
In a “back and forth mental judo” — as Sen. Tom Brewer later quipped — Cartier and Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers debated the common attack on why IDs are needed to board a plane or buy alcohol, but not to vote.
“These are safeguards that we put in place because we know what human nature is,” Hilgers said. “And if there aren’t safeguards, people are going to take advantage of them.”
Cartier replied that in the context of voter identification, saying Murante’s bill only prevented voter impersonation fraud, which was very limited in scope because it was difficult to achieve in small communities, where poll workers often know many of the voters in their precinct personally.
“I don’t think from the numbers that we see, people aren’t necessarily that committed to pretending they are someone else and casting a ballot,” he said. “I think we should be spending our time on other solutions.”
Vickie Young, president of the Omaha Branch of the NAACP, said it took “major legislation in the 1960s to finally codify” the right to vote for African-Americans and other minorities.
“Now we find the Nebraska Legislature attempting to eviscerate people’s rights to vote again with needless voter ID requirements,” Young said.
“How does it make you personally feel as a strong woman of color when yet again there’s somebody throwing something in your way?” Blood asked Young.
“It’s a challenge, but again it’s a challenge I’m willing to take on,” Young replied. “My grandfather fought for this right. As a woman of color, I’m going to fight for this right so my children and my grandbabies who are looking to me to fight for this right will be empowered.”