Voter ID public hearing stretches seven hours at the Unicameral
Committee now tasked with assembling pieces from various proposals to send to full Legislature
Signs direct voters at an Omaha polling place in a church basement. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — Nebraskans on Wednesday packed a public hearing room and overflowed into another, waiting for a shot to weigh in on three proposals that will help shape the state’s final Voter ID law.
The trio of bills that aired during a combined session before the Legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee represented different ends of the spectrum.
A bill sponsored by Sen. Jen Day of Gretna, for example, would have the Secretary of State dispatch mobile units to each Nebraska county several weeks ahead of Election Day to supply qualifying ID documents to voters who have disabilities or lack transportation.
Day’s Legislative Bill 675, among other elements, offers wide-ranging options for acceptable ID to vote, including ID cards that have expired.
Legislative Bills 228 and 230, sponsored by State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard, are more restrictive, requiring that ballots be cast in person and ending mail-in voting except for military personnel and nursing home residents.
Erdman has called for criminalization of rule-breaking poll workers and wants to turn Election Day into a holiday (though he indicated that idea could drop if too cost-prohibitive).
None of the three bills would charge a fee to get a state ID for voting purposes. Each comes with a cost to the state.
Erdman’s LB 228, for example, carries an estimated price tag of more than $25 million the first year if the election holiday also was created. Day’s LB 675, according to the fiscal analysis, would cost state government about $11 million the first year.
All were heard
Kicking off the seven-hour meeting, State Sen Tom Brewer of Gordon told testifiers that their remarks will be considered along with others received a month ago during the hearing for LB 535, a separate Voter ID proposal introduced by State Sen. Julie Slama of Dunbar.
We will probably mix and match, take parts and pieces as necessary – State Sen. Tom Brewer, chair of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee
We will probably mix and match, take parts and pieces as necessary
– State Sen. Tom Brewer, chair of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee
Brewer said the various bills will help the committee craft its version of a Voter ID proposal that then will go to the full Legislature for debate and probable modifications.
The various bills are in response to a constitutional amendment Nebraska voters passed in the November election that requires Nebraskans to show photo ID before voting.
“We will probably mix and match, take parts and pieces as necessary,” Brewer said, adding that the Voter ID legislation could be the most difficult task for the Legislature this session.
All those who stayed for Wednesday’s meeting were heard by the committee. Several county election commissioners led off the testimony, voicing concern about the Erdman proposals.
“Both these bills go way beyond the scope of what voters approved,” said Sherry Schweitzer, election commissioner of Seward County.
Additional equipment, workers
She spoke against Erdman’s preference to end voting by mail, except for nursing home residents and military personnel.
“We know early voting is safe and secure,’ said Schweitzer. “Shouldn’t everyone eligible to vote be allowed to vote?”
She said it is hard enough to get election workers to step forward for a civic duty, without adding the possibility of criminalization.
Brian Kruse, election commissioner of Douglas County, said Erdman’s call to count ballots on Election Day at each precinct would be costly, likely requiring additional equipment and workers.
He cited the 11 counties in Nebraska whose voters cast ballots almost entirely by mail. “This would be a drastic change for them, if even possible,” said Kruse.
Linda Vermooten of Bellevue was among testifiers who favored a more restrictive voting environment.
“I have to laugh,” the native South African said, explaining that she grew up in a country where a person either showed up that day to vote or did not vote.
She was opposed to LB 675, saying it “opens so many loopholes,” and she said she was shocked when she cast her first vote in the U.S. and did not have to show identification.
Cindy Miller, in her remarks, called LB 675 “a lot of expensive fluff” that does little to protect election integrity.
Shirley Niemayer was among testifiers who weren’t thrilled about any of the Voter ID bills, though she said LB 675 was most acceptable.
Her objection: Voter fraud is not happening as some have tried to portray, she said.
“If people want to cheat, they’re going to do it voting in person by faking their driver’s license, which is possible with our technology,” she said.
State Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings, in questioning Day, pointed out that Nebraska voters in November passed a Voter ID initiative that required a photo. He said some of the identification options laid out in LB 675 do not come with a photo.
Day said the bill was intended as a foundation and added, “If some of what is in this bill needs to be amended, we can definitely work on that.”
Do you agree there needs to be a photo? Halloran asked.
“Yes, if that is what the voters were looking for, yes,” Day said.
Public awareness campaign
She said LB 675 protects Nebraskans’ voting rights in ways the other bills do not.
“Most significantly, this bill provides a wide range of what can be accepted as a qualifying ID so that fewer legal voters would be turned away at the polls,” Day said.
It also calls for a $1 million public awareness campaign to explain the new process and rules.
Erdman, in the presentation about his proposals, said five other states have made Election Day a holiday. But with costs to government and business, he said, he might back off that idea.
He was full speed ahead, though, on the push for all in-person voting (short of the nursing and assisted living residents and military personnel). Erdman proposes that ballots be counted at the precinct level on Election Day.
“How do we make sure our votes are secure and not messed with?” he asked. “This is a way to do that.”
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