Nebraska compromise on Voter ID appears near

By: - May 5, 2023 6:54 pm

A Lancaster County voter returns her request card for an early voting ballot. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — The Nebraska Legislature is inching closer to compromise legislation that may have found a middle ground between dueling amendments to implement voter ID.

State Sen. Julie Slama, who did not immediately return messages seeking comment, and State Sen. Tom Brewer, the chair of the Government and Military Affairs Committee, sent the outlines of a new proposal to bill drafters this week, Brewer said. 

That proposal would replace the most recent version of Slama’s Legislative Bill 535 with an amendment that answered the three questions outlined by the Nebraska Examiner earlier this week as being the central differences that needed to be resolved. 

Those were which IDs would be accepted to vote, how and when the state would verify the IDs of voters using mail-in ballots, and whether the bill would add additional checks on every voter’s immigration status, beyond the state check of citizenship that occurs when people register to vote. 

State Sen. Julie Slama of Dunbar. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska News Service)

Slama told Nebraska Public Media on Friday that the proposal would allow the use of state ID cards, student ID cards from colleges and universities and IDs from nursing homes. Expired IDs would also be allowed, in accordance with case law. (An earlier proposal would have required the IDs to be current.)

She also told them the proposal would allow witnesses to sign and vouch that they had seen a person’s photo ID after a person had filled out their mail-in ballot and placed it inside an envelope to protect ballot secrecy. Witnesses would put themselves at legal risk if they lied. 

Some voting rights advocates preferred that the ID check happen earlier in the process to leave more time to fix or cure ballots that showed something wrong. A Brewer proposal had considered letting people write down their own driver’s license or state ID card numbers to prove their identification. Slama had argued such a proposal ran afoul of the spirit of the state’s new constitutional language requiring Nebraskans to show a photo ID to vote.

The compromise voter ID bill would not add additional checks of voters’ citizenship status. 

State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska News Service)

Brewer said he expects to hold an executive committee meeting on the new language sometime next week and have the final language ready for legislative debate in mid-May.

Slama and Brewer met Monday with Speaker John Arch and worked with the Governor’s Office and Secretary of State’s Office on a way forward that follows federal law, election case law and the Nebraska Constitution. Senators felt some urgency to act this year after voters last fall overwhelmingly approved the ID requirement and left the specifics to the Legislature.

While noting nothing is final, and that the committee hasn’t yet voted on the new proposal, several people around the process expressed hope.

“I understand the issues of concern were addressed, and there is an amendment being worked at bill drafters,” Brewer said. 

Voting rights organization Civic Nebraska said Friday it was withholding judgment about the bill until its leaders could see the new amendment’s language. But they reacted positively to much of what was reportedly in the compromise.

“They appear to be less burdensome than what had been recently proposed,” Steve Smith, a spokesman for the group, said in a statement. “State senators are listening to Nebraskans when they say they would accept a simple, narrow version of voter ID: no duplicative steps, no provisions that discourage people from voting and no unnecessary or additional costs, either in dollars or voters’ time.”


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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also worked as an assignment editor and editorial writer. He was an investigative reporter at KMTV.