Concerns raised about new Nebraska voter ID restrictions outlined in legislation

Bills filed after voters approved constitutional amendment in November

By: - January 17, 2023 5:00 pm

Voter arrives to vote in Ohio. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

LINCOLN — Concerns were raised Tuesday about a major voter ID bill introduced by State Sen. Julie Slama of Dunbar.

Among changes called for under Legislative Bill 535 is a requirement that those requesting early mail-in ballots must send election officials proof of valid state-issued photo ID or “a photocopy of any other valid photographic identification issued to the voter.”

voter ID
State Sen. Julie Slama and other backers of an initiative to require voters to provide identification, taken in 2022. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

The bill calls for Election Day voters to show valid photo ID at polling sites. It provides for a couple of alternatives, including an option for voters with a religious objection to being photographed.

It eliminates a fee for a state identification that’s issued for voting purposes.

Constitutional amendment

The proposal comes in the wake of the constitutional amendment passed in November that requires photo voter ID in Nebraska.

Much debate and analysis is ahead to shape the enabling legislation, but Civic Nebraska’s Steve Smith said Tuesday his group will be working with lawmakers and scrutinizing bills to reduce the risk of squeezing out voters’ right to cast ballots.

“The goal should not be to punish voters, but to secure as positive a result as possible for our fellow Nebraskans,” said Smith.

Civic Nebraska objected to two voter ID bills introduced last week by State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard, saying they would all but eliminate vote-by-mail options and sharply raise requirements to register to vote.

ACLU of Nebraska said in a statement Tuesday that each voter ID bill brought forward so far would result in “unreasonable barriers to the ballot.”

“Each bill also presents insufficient plans for making sure every otherwise eligible voter without a ‘satisfactory’ ID will be able to easily get one,” said interim director Mindy Rush Chipman. “Ultimately, state senators have a responsibility to reject these bills or to significantly rework them to ensure continued access to our elections.”

Nebraska joins 35 other states

Slama was a lead backer of the voter ID initiative that last year gained enough petition signatures to be placed on the ballot. Proponents say safeguards are needed to ensure that elections remain secure. 

Funded primarily by the Ricketts family, the initiative calling for photo voter ID passed with 65% of the votes. According to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, $1.87 million alone was contributed to the election campaign by Marlene Ricketts, mother of Nebraska’s former governor, Pete Ricketts.

With passage of the amendment, Nebraska joined 35 other states that have voter ID laws. But it was left to the Legislature to work out the details of the law.

The Slama proposal defines a valid voter ID as a current document, such as a driver’s license, that shows the voter’s name as it conforms to their voter registration record and includes a photo or digital image of the voter.

It must be issued by the federal or state government, the military or a Native American Indian tribe. 

Religious objection

Slama’s legislation would allow those with a religious objection to being photographed to present a digital image of an affidavit stating such objection.

For those who don’t bring required information to polling sites on Election Day, the Slama proposal outlines an alternative similar to voter ID laws of some other states.

Voters who lack a required photo, for example, but whose name appears on the precinct list of registered voters, can sign a so-called “verification envelope.”

A completed ballot is placed inside that verification envelope and would be included in voting results — if the voter presents the required ID to the election office by the following Tuesday.

The signature on the envelope would stand as certification under penalty of election falsification, a Class IV felony punishable by up to two years imprisonment or a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Public awareness campaign

For voters requesting mail-in ballots, they are to include the identification number of their valid photographic ID issued by the state or, “if none, a photocopy of any other valid photographic identification issued to the voter.”

LB 535 also calls for creation of a public awareness campaign and a website about voter identification requirements and procedures.

Pertinent instructions on new rules and how to obtain a free valid photo ID are to be distributed by the Nebraska Departments of Health and Human Services, Education and Motor Vehicles.

The requirement for a photo ID would be effective beginning in 2024. 

Clarification: The timing of a photo ID requirement has been corrected. 

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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.