Photo ID lessons are valuable for voters

August 7, 2023 3:00 am

Wall art at the Douglas County Election Commissioner’s Office. (Cate Folsom/Nebraska Examiner)

If a learning curve ever needed guardrails, it is Nebraskas new voter photo ID law, which will be in effect during next Mays primary. The timing gives voting Nebraskans about a school year to master the material derived from the electorates decision to change how we exercise our most powerful civic duty.

This just in: When we mess with the vote — the truest voice for those living in a democratic republic — no stakes are higher.

Thats why Nebraskas Secretary of State’s Office is wise to roll out a campaign to explain to voters how the new photo ID law works. Those details, reported in the Nebraska Examiner and elsewhere, make it clear that grasping and using the new law properly will take some time. Even without applying the bell curve principle of normal distribution, some Nebraska voters — who presumably have voted without issue in previous elections — will get it wrong.

Change is never easy, so despite clever how-to campaigns, Nebraska Voter Information Lookup and provisional ballots, some X’s will end up uncounted. Too, the possibility of a few or more than a few voters becoming overwhelmed and simply giving up is real. Thats not really on the Secretary of States Office, which is trying to make the best of the change, but rather on our insistence that we need a photo ID law.

Among the consequences of solving a problem that doesn’t exist are creating actual problems.

If youre getting a sour grapes vibe, youre close. Regular readers of this space know that Id prefer a campaign to convince me of the need for a photo ID to vote. But that ship has sailed. On April 1, 2024, photo IDs for voting will be the law. (Ill skip a comment on the effective date.)

Such begrudging acquiescence may be in part because I am among the demographic of voters who drive and can vote in person … which is what many ballot-casting Nebraskans will do next spring. The hoop for us is large and low: Bring our license to the polls. No muss, no fuss

But for mail-in voters, the change, while not overwhelming, will present a new normal in the form of providing more information on or in the envelope.

Research has shown that obstacles such as ID cards that come between voters and the ballot box can be daunting, especially for the poor, the elderly, college students and people of color. Nebraska will offer a free photo ID for those without one and will accept other forms, including IDs from nursing homes, colleges or the military, even passports. Nevertheless, the data, while improving in some states where a photo ID requirement already exists, cannot be ignored.

All of which makes the summer of 2024 critical for Nebraska voters. Thats when state and county election officials will be able to assess how we did in the primary and tweak lesson plans as necessary. Such an appraisal should prepare us for everything from kinks to calamities and smooth the road for next fall’s presidential election.

Nebraska will be the 36th state to enact some form of voter ID. The height of the hurdles varies because while the Constitution contains the Election Clause, giving Congress and the feds the power to set the Time, Places, and Manner” of congressional elections, states call most of the requirement shots.

The Constitution hardly avoids the subject, however. Amendments 14, 15, 17, 19, 24 and 26 mention voting, from granting rights and due process to enfranchising former enslaved Americans and women to banning poll taxes, which were used to circumvent the 15th Amendment and deny poor Black Americans the vote.

Still, the states carry out the elections and determine eligibility within the scope of the Constitution. In the last decade, state legislatures and state voters have conditioned those rights, primarily to include some form of ID. The ID, they argue, is necessary to secure safe and legitimate elections despite zero to miniscule evidence, documentation that proves who you are required at registration, and, although over 30 states used these election security” requirements in 2020, nearly a third of Americans still dont accept the results of that presidential election. More hoops through which to jump; less faith in the results.

I remain among the unconvinced that we need this requirement to vote. But Nebraskans have spoken. And here we are.

So the news that were about to go to school to learn how best to make it work strikes me as being on the right road.

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George Ayoub
George Ayoub

George Ayoub filed nearly 5,000 columns, editorials and features in 21 years as a journalist for the Grand Island Independent. His columns also appeared in the Omaha World-Herald and Kearney Hub. His work has been recognized by the Nebraska Press Association and the Associated Press. He was awarded a national prize by Gatehouse Media for a 34-part series focusing on the impact of cancer on families of victims and survivors. He is a member of the adjunct faculty and Academic Support Staff at Hastings College. Ayoub has published two short novels, “Warm, for Christmas” and “Dust in Grissom.” In 2019 he published “Confluence,” the biography of former Omaha World-Herald publisher and CEO John Gottschalk.