Nebraska elections head: confidence lost in Trump voting commission

Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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January 4, 2018 - 5:39pm

Nebraska’s Secretary of State said he’s not surprised a commission set up by President Donald Trump to look into voter fraud has been disbanded. And Nebraska lawmakers continue to introduce bills affecting everything from taxes to the statues representing the state in the halls of Congress.

Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale says the voter fraud commission created by President Trump was controversial from the start. It was plagued by lawsuits and states that refused to furnish information it requested, whether the officials in those states were Democrats or, like Gale, Republican. “Many of us as secretaries of state have lost confidence in our ability to accept their goals as being goals that we can trust and rely on,” Gale said Thursday.

Gale had said he would send the commission the voter information it requested, but only after he received assurances it would be handled properly. “The deep heart of the matter under Nebraska law was whether or not this data was going to be properly protected and secured so that it could not be obtained by third parties who would use it for nefarious or commercial purposes,” he said.

Gale said when he requested a commission official sign an affidavit to that effect, he did get a man to sign it. “He was the individual who was later was charged with eight counts of possession and distribution of (child) pornography, and was fired from the commission. So it gave us a little less than strong confidence that he was authorized to sign the affidavit or that anybody was going to pay any attention to an affidavit signed by him,” Gale said.

Gale said voting reforms enacted by Congress after the controversial Bush-Gore election in 2000 have worked well. “The country’s really virtually had very, very, smooth, noncontroversial, and pretty much fraud-free elections across the United States,” he said.

Gale said times have changed since then, and election security does need to be revisited. But he says rather than relying solely on a presidential commission, Congress needs to get involved.

 Also Thursday, lawmakers continued to introduce proposals to be considered this session. Among them was one (LB789) by Sen. Laura Ebke, chair of the Judiciary Committee, to do away with a tax on marijuana and other drugs. Ebke said the tax, which doesn’t make possessing drugs legal,  doesn’t work very well. “They don’t really collect any money out of it because people who are going to sell drugs typically aren’t going to go to the Department of Revenue and say ‘Hey, I need $100 worth of tax stamps to put on this brick of marijuana’ or whatever,” she explained.

In just over a quarter century, the tax has brought in about $1.5 million used for programs like drug enforcement and education. The vast majority of that has come from administrative and court actions – just over $13,000 has come from people buying drug tax stamps in advance, like they are supposed to. Ebke most of the sales of stamps have been to “hobbyists – people who just want a copy of the stamp because they’re cool, they look neat, and they’re sort of a novelty item.”

Nebraska drug tax stamp (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

But she said another effect of the law is that is it allows prosecutors to raise the potential penalties.

David Partsch of the Nebraska County Attorneys Association, which represents prosecutors, said the funds the law generates are critical, and the proposal should be met with “fierce resistance” -- not only from prosecutors and law enforcement, but by communities and citizens “being protected from the harms of illegal drugs and trafficking.”

Ebke is not optimistic about the chances for her proposal. But she says it’s something that needs to be considered. “Realistically, will it come out of committee? I don’t know. I doubt it. But I think it’s something that we need to talk about, especially in light of our current criminal justice system and the overflow that we’ve got in the prisons,” she said.

Nebraska’s overcrowded prisons are the target of a federal lawsuit that could lead to significant numbers of people being released, and significant expenses for the state.

Meanwhile, Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard introduced property tax relief legislation (LB829) Thursday he has been promising since last year. His proposal would refund, via the income tax, half the property taxes Nebraskans pay for schools. The proposal is estimated to cost around $1 billion per year, more than 20 percent of the state’s general fund budget. Erdman suggested that cost could be paid for through spending cuts and ending certain tax exemptions.

And another proposal (LB807) that was introduced aims to change who represents Nebraska in the form of statues in the halls of Congress in Washington DC. Each state gets two statues. Nebraska is currently represented by three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, and newspaperman/agriculturalist/and politician J. Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day. Sen. Burke Harr wants to replace Morton’s statue with one of author Willa Cather.

“Not that I dislike or don’t think Sterling Morton was a great man. I get a day off (Arbor Day) as a state employee because of him,” Harr said. “But Willa Cather was a great Nebraska author and I think we’re starting to take more notice of her as she’s starting to be celebrated more nationally. I also think it would be nice if we had a male and a female represented in the Capitol.”

Bill introductions continue Friday.








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