Senator, former lawmaker say some voter ID petition circulators claim to be state employees
Director of petition drive says circulators will face repercussions if claims are true
Nebraskan signs petition for a ballot initiative. (Courtesy of Rebecca S. Gratz)
LINCOLN — Some petition circulators seeking signatures for a voter ID initiative are falsely claiming they are state employees, a current and a former state senator said Tuesday.
Impersonating someone else to gain something of value — in this case, payment for collecting a petition signature — is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail or a $1,000 fine. The crime would rise to a felony if repeated more than twice.
State Sen. Julie Slama, the director of Citizens for Voter ID, which is seeking to place a voter identification initiative on the November ballot, said Tuesday evening in a text that her organization is looking into the complaints.
If they proved to be true, Slama said, it would result in “corrective action up to and including termination of the circulators.”
The voter ID initiative is using a company, Vanguard Field Strategies of Kansas City, Missouri, to collect signatures using paid circulators.
The Nebraska Examiner has fielded two complaints about four circulators claiming to be state employees in Omaha on Monday.
One came from former State Sen. Shelley Kiel, who lives in the Dundee area of Omaha. Kiel said a young woman came to her door Monday afternoon and began the conversation by claiming, “I’m from the State of Nebraska,” and asking Kiel to sign the vote ID petition.
Are you sure?
Kiel, who served in the Legislature from 1997 to 2001 and ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Congress in 2000, said she asked the woman at least twice if she was sure she was an employee of the state, and the woman responded “yes.”
Ten minutes after that petition circulator left, another woman came to the door, Kiel said, and was talking to her husband.
This time, after the circulator claimed she worked for the “Secretary of State’s Office,” Kiel informed her that she had served in the State Legislature and what the woman was doing — claiming to be a state employee — was probably illegal.
“I was wondering about that,” the woman responded, according to Kiel.
State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue said she had a similar experience when approached by a young man Monday afternoon in the parking lot of a Bed, Bath and Beyond Store near 72nd and Pacific Streets.
Trained to do it?
Blood said she confronted the man about his claim of being “a state employee.” She said she later confronted a second circulator, a woman, in the parking lot after the woman claimed she was a state employee.
Both Blood and Kiel independently said it appeared that the circulators had been “trained” to say they were state employees, because they continued to insist that was the case even when confronted about it.
Slama, the Voter ID campaign director, said that was “absolutely not” the case.
A serious matter
Both Blood and Kiel said they considered it a serious matter. Blood, the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor, said those who are lying to obtain signatures should be fined.
“We have people who are concerned that there might be [voter] fraud in Nebraska. How do they justify someone fraudulently trying to get signatures?” Blood asked.
Deputy Secretary of State Wayne Bena, who heads the election division of the office, said it’s not uncommon to hear complaints about petition circulators.
Most complaints, he said, are about overly aggressive circulators, who are paid by the signature.
Signers can get name removed
Bena said his standard procedure when a complaint is filed is to log in the complaint and inform the initiative organizers to take corrective action, which is what he did after Blood emailed him Monday.
But Bena said now that he’s aware of two complaints, he will be contacting the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office if he hears more complaints about circulators masquerading as state employees.
State law prohibits state employees from engaging in political activities during state work hours.
Bena added that if someone feels they were duped into signing a petition, they can have their name removed by filling out a form available at county and state election offices.
Slama said the campaign has mobilized “hundreds of circulators” and is “ahead of schedule” in collecting enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in November.
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