Hindrances, impediments and photo IDs

September 26, 2022 4:00 am

(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

If I’m supposed to feel safer, I don’t. If I’m supposed to break out in a freer and fairer dance, the music is silent. If I’m supposed to recognize an uptick in integrity, I missed it.

From the sky-is-falling department comes the latest installment of Nebraska’s decade-long attempt to change the state Constitution. This time to require voters to have a photo ID.

Maybe I don’t feel safer because I was never in danger — at least from voter fraud. Nebraska already has free and fair elections. Nor can anyone come up with an instance of one voter impersonating another out of millions of ballots cast in Nebraska this century.

Nevertheless, this iteration of a solution-looking-for-a-problem garnered enough signatures to make the November ballot. The smart money is on passage: The petition drive to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot harvested 172,000 signatures, far more than it needed.

All of which may mean sometime soon, Nebraskans will need a photo ID to vote. If so, we would join 35 other states requiring some form of identification at a polling place.

Obviously, proving you are who the voter rolls say you are is critical to honest elections — as we had in 2020. That’s why we provide identification when we register to vote or if we update our registration. An official mugshot presents a problem for at least 54,000 Nebraska adults, however. That’s the number Civic Nebraska, opponents of the ID measure, culled from the DMV by subtracting license holders from registered voters. Moreover, according to the language of the amendment, the Legislature will decide what is a “valid” photo ID. Passport photo? Student ID? Facebook profile pic? Fishing license from Newfoundland?

That tidbit, albeit troubling, buries the lead, however.

So does engaging in dueling and inconclusive data. Some research suggests that photo IDs have no impact on voter turnout. Other studies lean toward voter IDs impacting voter turnout among certain demographics … communities that critics of voter IDs forecast would be affected: voters of color, voters living in poverty and voters living in rural precincts.

Proponents argue that photo IDs ensure election integrity although, as stated above, the cases of any election hanky-panky in Nebraska are miniscule. The math is clear, despite the claims of groups searching for evidence to support their conclusion that we are awash or potentially awash in fraud.

Even the language of the proposed amendment, which would change Article I, Section 22 of the state Constitution, borders on dichotomous.

Part 1 of the amendment says “…There should be no hindrance or impediment to the right of a qualified voter to exercise the elective franchise.” Part 2 says “… a qualified voter shall present a valid photographic identification in a manner specified by the Legislature.…” Perhaps the amendment’s creators should have conjoined the two parts into one by inserting a phrase between them:  “except the following hindrance or impediment whereby.…”

There, fixed it.

Earnest and honest Nebraskans have clamored for voter ID laws well before the last election. Their work this time awards them a spot on the ballot, so all Nebraskans have a chance to decide if we are going to equate constitutional guarantees with opening a bank account, ordering a cold one or checking into a hotel.

Which brings us to the biggest hanging chad in the room: The real story of this voter ID crusade — despite a nearly 10-year effort to codify it — is the line you can draw from it or any voting barrier to the Big Lie, the delirium that the 2020 election was a rigged and manipulated cheatfest.

Any argument that photo IDs solve the problem of voter fraud assumes we have voter fraud. That’s the lie on which a couple thousand Americans attacked our U.S. Capitol in hopes of overthrowing an election and, essentially, the government. The lie on which thousands more believe they were justified in doing it. And, despite any credible evidence to the contrary, the lie on which a third of us still believe the 2020 election was stolen.

Those are bad neighborhoods of belief.

Nebraskans may very well pass the photo ID requirement to vote. That hurdle may prove inconsequential and have little to no effect on turnout. Too, it may ferret out an apparently non-existent fraudulent act of impersonation at the ballot box, thereby strengthening our elective franchise.

But if one Nebraskan is hindered or impeded in the process, photo IDs will move from providing voter security to underwriting voter suppression.

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George Ayoub
George Ayoub

George Ayoub filed nearly 5,000 columns, editorials and features in 21 years as a journalist for the Grand Island Independent. His columns also appeared in the Omaha World-Herald and Kearney Hub. His work has been recognized by the Nebraska Press Association and the Associated Press. He was awarded a national prize by Gatehouse Media for a 34-part series focusing on the impact of cancer on families of victims and survivors. He is a member of the adjunct faculty and Academic Support Staff at Hastings College. Ayoub has published two short novels, “Warm, for Christmas” and “Dust in Grissom.” In 2019 he published “Confluence,” the biography of former Omaha World-Herald publisher and CEO John Gottschalk.