Committee voter ID bill survives a second round of filibuster by Sen. Julie Slama

Sen. Tom Brewer defends committee bill and Secretary of State Bob Evnen 

By: - May 30, 2023 6:46 pm

(Kate Brindley/New Hampshire Bulletin)

LINCOLN — A final push over Memorial Day weekend failed to result in a voter ID compromise acceptable to State Sen. Julie Slama of Dunbar and Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen, despite help from Gov. Jim Pillen, Speaker John Arch and Attorney General Mike Hilgers.

State Sen. Julie Slama of Dunbar and State Sen. Tom Brewer, who chairs the Government and Military Affairs Committee in the Nebraska Legislature, debate a voter ID bill Monday. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

The result Tuesday was another four-hour filibuster by a single senator opposing a bill during a legislative session defined by similar defiance. This time it was Slama, the face of the 2022 ballot initiative that led to a state constitutional requirement that voters show a photo ID.

As happened in the first round of debate, Slama’s filibuster again fell to broad legislative support for the Government and Military Affairs Committee bill. Slama said State Sen. Tom Brewer, the committee chairman, wasn’t to blame for the voter ID proposal’s shortcomings. She aimed her attacks at Evnen and his staff.

Good faith or not?

Slama said that she had negotiated in good faith and that Evnen and his staff showed little interest in her proposals, which would have required additional checks on the citizenship of voters and fewer exceptions for people who could not obtain an ID in time to vote.

“This isn’t about me getting the credit,” Slama said.

Once a month, she said, she’d find out that Evnen, a Republican, was drafting an amendment for the committee or working with the committee on an amendment that the people who opposed voter ID last fall ended up supporting when it came time for cloture votes.

“I think everybody in the Legislature was operating in good faith,” she said. “I have serious doubts as to whether or not the Secretary of State was negotiating in good faith, given the weird ‘Road Closed’ sign that we got at the end of the day yesterday.”

State Sen. Julie Slama of Dunbar at Legislative Bill 535 public hearing. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

Brewer, Evnen defend work

Evnen, who supported the voter ID initiative, has defended his office, saying they worked with the Government Committee — at Brewer’s request — on a proposal, Legislative Bill 514, that balances the requirements of the U.S. and Nebraska Constitutions, as well as election case law.

Evnen said his office worked with Slama and gave her feedback on voter ID language she proposed, but he said the language changed multiple times during the process. The Government Committee proposal was a backup plan, Brewer has said. 

Brewer said key players other than him met with Slama over the weekend and tried to find a way forward, but neither side agreed to what the other wanted. That’s why senators moved forward Tuesday with the Government Committee’s “streamlined proposal,” advancing it by voice vote.

He got frustrated at one point, objecting to a push by Slama to replace an amendment, and explained what he described as “an extensive committee process.” Before Tuesday’s 42-3 vote for cloture, he said senators needed to uphold the value of the committee’s work.

“I believe [LB] 514 is a good bill,” Brewer said. “We’re sitting over here taking a beating over something that was a lot of hard work.”

What the bill does

LB 514 spells out rules about how voters prove they are who they say they are. In-person voters will have to show a state-approved photo ID. Approved IDs would include a driver’s license, passport, state ID, college or university ID or nursing home ID.

State Sens. Jane Raybould, left, and Tom Brewer meet on the floor of the Legislature on Friday, March 3, 2023, in Lincoln.  (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

It will cost about $1.8 million to implement, mainly to provide photo IDs for people without them and to provide access for county election offices to obtain the technology needed to check IDs electronically.

Slama saved some of her sharpest criticism for how LB 514 would let early voters write down their state-approved ID number and have it checked against an online database that lets election officials confirm their photo ID electronically.

Slama’s competing proposal, which the committee did not adopt, would have required voters to get a notary’s signature when returning a ballot by mail or to get a witness — a registered Nebraska voter — to vouch, under penalty of law, that they had seen the ID.

One moment of levity left Slama and Brewer both smiling and nodding Tuesday. That was when State Sen. Myron Dorn of Adams said, “I think when people passed voter ID, they thought, ‘Here, show your driver’s license,’ but this is so much more complicated than that.” 

Voter ID increasingly common

National organizations that track voting rights list 35 states that require ID to vote. Slama said a dozen other states have implemented a stricter version of voter ID based on language similar to what Nebraska voters approved. 

Slama objects to the way LB 514 deals with people who face a “reasonable impediment” to showing an ID. In her view, the bill allows people too much latitude to say they could not obtain an ID to vote and let them vote. She said Nebraskans want “strict voter ID.”

“LB 514 doesn’t get us there,” she said.

‘Least bad’ option

Voting rights advocates, including State Sen. Jane Raybould of Lincoln, said the committee bill appeared to thread the needle of implementing voter ID while doing the least possible to disenfranchise voters and keep them from exercising their rights.

Civic Nebraska, in a statement, agreed, saying: “This is a matter of degree, and LB 514’s provisions are the ‘least bad’ option of the voter ID measures considered this year.”

Slama’s filibuster prevented the Legislature from adopting changes the Attorney General’s Office sought, including shifting the language from difficulties “presenting” an ID to difficulties “obtaining” an ID in time to vote. Brewer said those changes would be in the committee’s first bill next year.

“We did what we could,” Brewer said after Tuesday’s vote. “But we have to move forward. If we need to clean up the language and can’t do it this year (because of Slama’s filibuster), we will do it in the Government Committee’s first bill next year.” 

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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.