Greetings from Lincoln! This past week we spent many hours debating LB 239, the “Voter ID” bill introduced by Senator Charlie Janssen of Fremont and prioritized by Senator Ken Schilz of Ogallala. This has been one of the most controversial issues of this Session. Each of us here has received many e-mails from people all around the state expressing their opinions. I would like to thank each of you who has called, e-mailed, written, and/or talked to me in person about this bill.
The people of the State who have contacted me are fairly evenly divided on whether or not the Legislature should pass this bill and I have taken the time to hear and weigh the facts and opinions on this issue before making my decision. This issue has crossed party lines, with people from each party being on both sides. Emotions have run high, I have been called names over the telephone, but I have also had very reasonable discussions with people, and I am proud of the way this bill was handled on the floor – very respectfully.
I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts in making my decision. I don’t see this issue as clear-cut as some do. First of all, we do not have a problem with voter fraud in Nebraska. Our Secretary of State monitors, very closely, any potential instances and has stated to us that it simply isn’t a problem here. Now, could it become one in the future? Possibly. So, do we need to take steps to prevent it? Yes, maybe we do. Is LB 239 the right solution to a potential future problem? No, I don’t believe it is.
First of all, it may solve one possible method of cheating in an election – voter impersonation, where someone actually shows up to a polling place and pretends to be someone else. This is not only the rarest form of voter fraud anywhere in the country, it is also highly unlikely to ever happen in most of Nebraska as most of our communities are small enough that the voter will be recognized by someone there, and even if they were not recognized as an imposter, they would have to get there before the registered voter, and be sure that the actual voter was not voting by mail. I also don’t believe that if someone is intent on trying to rig an election this is the method they would choose. It is more likely they would attempt to register under a false identity, and this bill would not solve that problem as it is fairly easy to obtain a fake ID.
Second, I believe that LB 239 creates an illegal “poll tax” by requiring that someone purchase an ID in order to vote. We cannot, under the U.S. Constitution, require anyone to have to pay a fee in order to be able to vote. A driver’s license or state identification card, valid for five years, costs $26.50. And this may not just be a one-time fee, as it has to be replaced every time a person moves. For some elderly people on fixed incomes, low-income Nebraskans, and college students this seemingly small amount could actually be prohibitive to them being able to exercise their right to vote. And if even one Nebraskan is prevented from voting by an action that the Nebraska Legislature took, that is one too many.
According to the Nebraska DMV, up to 130,000 of Nebraskans do not have valid ID for various reasons including change of address. LB 239 would affect 80,763 elderly and home bound Nebraskans who are unable to make it to the DMV to get proper identification to vote. Rural Nebraska especially is adversely affected by voter ID laws in that the local DMV office is further away and a vast majority are not open the entire week, an estimated 485,569 Nebraskans do not have access to DMV office which is open five days a week.
For these reasons, I could not support LB 239. This does not mean that I am not in favor of enacting a law which would address voter fraud issues. It is my hope that many Senators, myself included, will come together to address this over the interim and introduce a comprehensive voter fraud prevention bill that will truly protect the rights of all legal voters in Nebraska.