Signs direct voters at an Omaha polling place in a church basement. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — Now that the Nebraska Constitution is going to be amended to require valid photo identification to vote, the Legislature is tasked with hammering out details of the actual Voter ID law. And it’s poised to be among the nation’s strictest.
“There’s a lot of different, possible versions of what can come out of this,” said State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, who chairs the legislative committee likely to shape the bill for delivery to the full lawmaking body. “It’s not going to be easy.”
Brewer said he is braced for loud and long debate during the coming legislative session.
But the decorated military veteran said he is bound to a mission: “To make sure nobody is left out, that we allow everyone the privilege of voting.”
Stifled voter turnout is concern
The enacting legislation, said Brewer, who has been a supporter of Voter ID, is to be scrutinized by the Secretary of State’s Office, State Attorney General’s Office and the Legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, which he will likely continue to lead.
Critics of Voter ID laws, including Civic Nebraska and the American Civil Liberties Union, also will be watching as language is honed and the law is implemented.
The opponents consider the law unnecessary, saying there is no evidence of voter impersonation in Nebraska and that extra hurdles stand to stifle the constitutional right to vote, especially among people of color, the poor, rural residents and people with disabilities.
How the new mandate will change mail-in voting and cause hardship to those without easy access to copier machines are big concerns, said Jane Seu, an attorney with ACLU Nebraska.
“The greater barrier that presents is the effect that may have on someone’s ability or willingness to vote,” said Seu.
Brewer acknowledges, “There are a lot of unknowns.”
Looking for ‘reasonable’
To be decided are questions like: Which photo ID documents will suffice? What actions or alternatives might be available for voters without such ID?
Proponents view voter identification laws as a way to increase public confidence in elections.
Brewer said he is interested in ensuring “reasonable” identification options. For example, as a member of the Oglala Sioux, he thinks tribal ID should suffice.
He cited his elderly mother and suggested flexibility should be given to aged voters whose ID has expired.
If lawmakers decide to require government-issued identification, Brewer said, it should be provided for free.
Ricketts money drove effort
The detailing of the law follows a petition campaign earlier this year that secured enough signatures in enough Nebraska counties to put the Voter ID initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Bankrolled primarily by the Ricketts family, the initiative passed with 65% of the votes. According to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, $1.87 million alone was contributed by Marlene Ricketts, mother of Nebraska’s outgoing governor.
Nebraska now joins 35 other states that have Voter ID laws.
(In the remaining states and the District of Columbia, voters verify who they are through ways that can include signing a poll book or registration list after giving poll workers their name and address.)
Plenty of examples
All states have procedures for challenging voter eligibility, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
With plenty of Voter ID laws to model and compare, Brewer expects state senators won’t “have to reinvent the wheel.”
Some, to be sure, are more restrictive than others.
According to the NCSL, which tracks voter identification laws and trends, 18 of the 35 Voter ID states require or ask for an ID with a photo.
Of those, eight are considered more strict, as voters who don’t show acceptable identification must cast provisional ballots and take additional steps, typically after Election Day, to be counted.
Nebraska, based on language voters approved Nov. 8, likely will be considered part of that more restrictive group.
Variations of Voter ID laws
Here’s a sampling of how, according to information compiled by the NCSL, states handle voting:
Kansas requires a photo ID to prove identity. The state allows citizens without required photo ID to cast a provisional ballot, but they must provide ID in person, mail or email before the county board of canvassers meets.
Missouri requires a photo ID, too. If not presented, a voter can cast a provisional ballot but has to return before 7 p.m. that same day to show the ID. A provisional ballot is also counted if the signature on a voter’s provisional ballot envelope is determined by a local election authority to match the signature on the voter’s registration record.
Alabama calls for valid photo ID, but a voter without one could cast a ballot if he or she is identified by two election officials as an eligible voter and both the election workers sign a sworn affidavit. If voting a provisional ballot, the voter has until 5 p.m. on Friday after the election to bring required ID.
Tennessee requires a photo ID. If not presented at the polls, a voter can cast a provisional ballot and return within two days to show the ID, or sign an affidavit attesting to indigence or religious objection.
Wyoming accepts non-photo ID. If not presented, a voter can cast a provisional ballot and go to the county clerk before close of business the following day to present the qualifying ID.
Arizona allows those who don’t have a qualifying non-photo ID to fill out a provisional ballot and return with an ID, such as utility bill or bank statement, within five days.
Texas requests photo ID but will accept a supporting form of ID, such as a paycheck or original birth certificate, if voter executes a “reasonable impediment declaration.”
South Dakota requests photo ID. If not presented, the voter can sign an affidavit including his or her name and address.
Kentucky requests ID but does not require one with a photo. If not presented, voters can sign an oath attesting to their qualifications.
New Hampshire requests ID that doesn’t have to include a photo. If ID is not presented, a voter signs a challenged voter affidavit and votes a regular ballot. After elections, a mailing is sent and that voter must sign and return or face investigation for voter fraud.
Connecticut requests a non-photo ID and, if not provided, a voter gives his or her name, birthdate and address and then signs under penalty of making a false statement.
In the states without such Voter ID laws including New Mexico, Oregon, Maine and Maryland (and previously Nebraska), no document is required to cast a vote on Election Day.
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