Civil rights activist Preston Love Jr. of Omaha speaks in Lincoln during a panel discussion about reasons he opposes Initiative 432 in Nebraska, the voter ID initiative. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — Voting rights advocates argued Monday that Nebraska’s Voter ID initiative on the November ballot is a blunt-force proposal aimed at fixing a nonexistent problem.
Omaha civil rights activist Preston Love Jr. spoke on a panel of people this week opposing Initiative 432. The ballot measure would require Nebraskans to show a valid photo ID to vote.
The anti-ID panelists — Love, ACLU Nebraska’s Jane Seu and Civic Nebraska’s Heather Engdahl — said voter ID laws reduce voting by people in communities of color and by people in poverty.
Seu cited studies from states that now require a form of ID to vote that indicated a 2-3 percentage point decline in turnout after requiring ID. That’s thousands of people shut out, Seu said.
Voter ID adds more complications and confusion to in-person voting and voting by mail, she said. People face longer lines and longer waits to vote, and more mailed-in ballots are rejected.
Gov. Pete Ricketts and backers of voter ID, including State Sen. Julie Slama of Dunbar, said Monday that requiring ID is a “common sense” way to make sure elections remain secure.
“Voter ID is something that will help people know that elections are secure,” Ricketts said. “An ID is not something that’s too high a bar for people to have.”
Panelists said they feared what the Legislature would require for identification with mail-in ballots if Initiative 432 is passed. The initiative leaves implementation specifics up to state lawmakers.
Senators could require a photograph or copy of a person’s ID to cast a vote by mail, the panelists said. But not everybody has access to photocopiers or printers, they said.
One of the panelists’ key questions: Which photo IDs will qualify as valid? Nebraska’s petition effort is stricter than in some states and might require IDs with matching addresses.
That gets tricky for people who move around, panelists said, including those who rent apartments or houses.
Love, who runs the Nebraska group Black Votes Matter, said voter ID hits hardest in places like his neighborhood in North Omaha, where voter turnout already runs 7-10 percentage points lower on average.
“As a Black man, I have fought for voting rights my entire life,” he said. “I’m turning weary talking about voter restrictions. I’m tired of having this conversation.”
Engdahl said voter ID would also make it harder for those who live in rural areas, where people often have to drive or ride long distances to reach a Department of Motor Vehicles office in a county seat to update records or obtain a new ID card.
She acknowledged that voter ID initiatives enjoy broad public support but said groups organizing against Initiative 432 would help explain what’s at stake and why the change isn’t needed.
Said Engdahl: “They could be denied the right to vote because of the technicality of a plastic card.”
Members of a group organized to oppose voter ID, Nebraskans for Free and Fair Elections, said they had identified 54,500 to 70,000 Nebraskans who lack valid IDs, using census information.
Such restrictions tend to favor Republicans over Democrats in elections, political observers said. But in some states, voters of both parties have been blocked from voting, including seniors and teens.
The governor has said the state would work to make sure people who need photo IDs to vote can get them. IDs can cost $20 to $45, panelists said.
A 2018 version of a voter ID bill in the Legislature set aside some money to help. It would have cost taxpayers about $3 million in the first year and $1 million a year after to carry out, based on estimates in the bill’s fiscal note.
Slama said 35 states have implemented voter ID requirements. She said Nebraska voters can see through the arguments of “liberal activists” and will approve requiring an ID to vote.
Asked why voter ID was needed in Nebraska, Ricketts acknowledged that Nebraska sees and prosecutes very few instances of voter fraud. But he said the state should not wait to see fraud to stop it.
“You want to take steps proactively so you don’t have any of those issues,” he said.
Examiner senior reporter Paul Hammel contributed to this report.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.