Voter suppression bill undermines Nebraskans’ right to vote

Courtesy of Nebraskans for Civic ReformVoting is an American right – and making voting harder is not a Nebraska value.

LB 381 mandates a restrictive and unnecessary voter identification system, puts a greater burden on our already overburdened election workers, and undermines our democracy by creating barriers to voting for many older Nebraskans who no longer drive, young voters and students who move frequently, people with low incomes, people who live in rural areas, and Nebraskans with disabilities.

The bill would require all Nebraska voters to present a state-issued identification card with an up-to-date home address to their neighborhood poll workers every time they vote which is not always affordable or possible for many Nebraskans.

For years, Nebraskans from farms, small towns and city neighborhoods have gathered at their local polling places and cast their ballots with no evidence of voter fraud. Numerous national studies show that voter fraud is near-nonexistent, and there is no evidence that voter impersonation, the only type of voter fraud this bill would address, exists in Nebraska.

The bill’s introducer, Sen. Charlie Janssen, even agreed no such fraud exists (page 66). In the hearing on the voter suppression bill he introduced last session, he stated, “I’m not here to assert that there is rampant voter fraud in Nebraska. In fact, I don’t believe there’s much, if any, voter fraud….Nebraskans are honest and forthcoming people.  When we cast our ballots at the polling place, we generally recognize each other as friends and neighbors.”

Instead, Sen. Janssen stated the reason for the bill was more philosophical.  He said, “…my own philosophical beliefs are it shouldn’t really be super easy to vote. You should have to have some, I guess, barrier…”

However, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically protect the right to vote for all eligible American citizens regardless of their income or other circumstances.  At the ceremony to formalize the 24th Amendment in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson said, “There can be no one too poor to vote.”  This bill would run contrary to those ideals.

Courtesy: Nebraskans for Civic ReformDespite the lack of any evidence there is voter impersonation in Nebraska, LB 381 would levy a costly burden on voters and taxpayers, invite litigation, impose a new bureaucracy and an unfunded mandate on struggling Nebraska counties, and impede the rights of qualified voters.  The bill would limit voting, a long-held Nebraska value enshrined in our state constitution which states, “All elections shall be free; and there shall be no hindrance or impediment to the right of a qualified voter to exercise that elective franchise.”

You are still American even if you do not have a current driver’s license

According to the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles, 10-20% of Nebraskans do not have an unexpired, state-issued identification card, and many do not have a current address on their identification card or driver’s license.

Since the DMV will only issue identification cards to those with proper identification such as a passport (which on average costs $185) or a certified copy of a birth certificate (which costs $12), Nebraska voters will have to pay a fee to obtain documents to obtain identification cards.  To add to the confusion, in Nebraska you must have a government-issued photo ID to obtain a certified copy of your Nebraska birth certificate.  And you must have a certified copy of your birth certificate to obtain your Nebraska ID or driver’s license.   Rural Nebraskans would bear an additional burden because they may have to travel a great distance to their local DMV office, which is often open only a few days a week.

The bill hurts seniors’ ability to vote

This bill is especially hard for seniors who live in nursing homes or who live independently but do not drive or have easy access to transportation.  They must now have a state-issued identification card or a driver’s license (cost $26.50) to vote, which means a trip to the DMV with their certified birth certificate (cost $12) and two documents that show their principal address.

Courtesy of Nebraskans for Civic ReformStudents who move frequently still have a right to vote

Students and younger voters who move frequently will have to update their ID cards and drivers licenses every time they move.  Poll workers and election officials will have to provide costly provisional ballots to anyone who forgets their ID at home – and voters will have to return to the poll or take additional time off work to show that forgotten ID.

Recent voter suppression laws have frequently been struck down

Voter suppression laws surged in state houses after the election of 2008, but few of these laws have survived the challenges by the Department of Justice and the courts or pushback by citizen’s groups, advocacy groups or thoughtful lawmakers  Recent cases suggest courts are uncomfortable when it appears laws may manipulate rules that make it harder for certain voters to participate in the electoral process.

The courts have raised questions about the legislation’s purpose.  Laws that pit the citizens’ right to vote against the integrity of the election must have a compelling state interest and an evidentiary showing that there is problem which can be resolved by a narrowly tailored law to burden a fundamental right.

There has been no evidence of widespread voter impersonation to warrant the burden this law will impose on the elderly, the low-income, the disabled, or the young voters of Nebraska.

LB 381 is a flawed bill that means an intrusive burden for a problem that does not exist.  Voting is an American right – and making voting harder is not a Nebraska value.

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