The legislative proposal to require photo IDs for voters in Nebraska ran into a buzz saw of opposition Tuesday during floor debate that signaled the beginning of a filibuster that will resume Wednesday.
The bill (LB111) sponsored by Sen. Tyson Larson of O'Neill would require voters to show a government-issued photo ID, but provides for acquisition of a state card at no cost for voters who may not have a photo ID.
Opponents said there is no evidence of voter fraud to suggest that the new requirement is needed and that the result would be an impediment to voting that would tend to depress, if not actively suppress, voter turnout.
Larson said the requirement is needed to "protect the integrity and reliability of the electoral process."
Sen. John Murante of Gretna said he believes "not a single voter will be turned away from the polls."
But Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha described the bill as "treacherous, disingenuous and racist," a proposal designed to "suppress the vote of black people."
Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln said the bill "imposes on a fundamental constitutional right, (to solve) a nonexistent problem."
National statistics indicate that voter fraud is "less likely than being struck by lightning," Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha said.
Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha suggested there could be "a significant cost" to the state to provide free IDs to Nebraskans who request them.
Opponents of the measure have estimated that cost would exceed $1 million.
Murante said there is "a lack of confidence in the electoral system we have now" because of the potential for voter fraud.
The need for voter identification is more vital now because of the transient nature of society, Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said.
Some supporters of the legislation have expressed concern about the possibility that votes might be cast by immigrants who are illegally settled in the United States.
The battle over voter ID legislation is being waged across a national landscape, with Republicans generally supporting photo IDs and Democrats arguing that the purpose of the new requirement is to suppress the vote cast by segments of the population that normally vote Democratic.
Opponents of the bill say it would suppress the votes of students, racial minorities and disabled and elderly people.
The bill could be held captive by a filibuster if at least 17 of the 49 senators prevent it from moving ahead.