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Nebraska could be next state to pass voter ID

...Nebraska, where two different bills have been introduced this year. Voting rights advocates have said they’re ready to go to court if either measure passes.
Early voters wait in line to get their ballots at the Douglas County Election Commission offices in Omaha, Neb., on Oct. 24, 2014.
Early voters wait in line to get their ballots at the Douglas County Election Commission offices in Omaha, Neb., on Oct. 24, 2014.

Nebraska could be the next state to impose a voter ID law.

Two different ID bills have already been introduced already this year, and voting rights advocates have said they’re ready to go to court if either measure passes.

One bill, proposed by state Sen. Tyson Larson, is similar to some of the stricter ID laws passed by other states: It requires in-person voters to show a non-expired photo ID issued by the state or federal government. The address on the ID must match a voter’s current address.

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Absentee voters wouldn't be required to show ID unless they're voting for the first time—even though most of the voter fraud that exists occurs through absentee voting.

Nebraska would provide a nominally free ID for indigent voters—but who qualifies as indigent isn’t defined. That means some voters could end up having to pay for the documents needed to vote.

Proponents of the bill haven't cited any cases of in-person voter impersonation fraud in Nebraska of the kind that would be stopped by the ID requirement. Larson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Another bill, sponsored by state Sen. Paul Schumacher, allows a similar range of IDs but would let those without identification vote, as long as they agreed to have their picture taken at the polls as a safeguard against fraud, or were recognized by poll-workers.

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Though Schumacher’s bill is less restrictive, both of its exemptions are problematic. Civil liberties groups have raised concerns about picture-taking requirements at the polls, which may intimidate some voters. And voting rights groups also have criticized laws that favor voters who are recognized by poll workers, like Alabama's, since the result can be to discriminate against racial minorities and the poor.

Nebraska’s legislature, which has only one chamber, is officially non-partisan. But those who identify unofficially as Democrats lost five seats last fall, and Republicans have a large majority.

“These are the most restrictive changes to state voting laws in the state’s history, and they don’t want to appropriate any money to pay for it,” said Adam Morfeld, a state senator who opposes voter ID.

No solid information exists on how many Nebraska voters lack the kind of ID that would be needed, and neither bill requires that the state conduct a study of the issue. But Bri McLarty of Nebraskans for Civic Reform (NCR), which opposes ID laws, said the number is certainly above 112,000. That’s the number of registered voters who the state said last year have changed their address and not yet updated their information.

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And a study conducted last year by NCR and submitted to the legislature found that one in four of the people served by the Center for People in Need, a non-profit serving low-income Nebraskans, wouldn’t be able to vote under a bill similar to Larson’s.

McLarty said her group and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska would likely sue in state court to overturn any voter ID law that passed, adding that Nebraska’s constitution offers a strong guarantee of the right to vote. Voting rights advocates in Pennsylvania and Arkansas have recently used lawsuits citing their states’ constitutions to overturn voter ID laws.

This isn’t the first effort by Nebraska conservatives on behalf of voter ID. A 2011 push was stymied thanks to a filibuster led by Morfeld. Another bill, also sponsored by Schumacher, died in the state legislature's Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee in 2013.

But Morfeld said the committee’s makeup is now much more favorable to voter ID. He said he expects to have to mount another filibuster this year.

Nebraska isn’t the only new state mulling voter ID. Nevada Republicans are said to be readying a bill, and conservatives in Ohio are reviving an ongoing grassroots campaign for voter ID in the nation’s most pivotal swing-state.