Proposed voter ID law ignites controversy

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January 10, 2012 - 6:00pm

Before casting a ballot this November, Nebraska voters may be "carded." It's part of a bill set for debate in the Nebraska Legislature, but several advocacy groups are standing against it. And they plan to take their concerns to Lincoln.

Under current voting rules in Nebraska, after a person registers to vote, they receive a voter identification card through the mail. All they need to do next is show up at their assigned polling site, give their names and addresses, and vote. But State Senator Charlie Janssen of Fremont wants to change that. He introduced a bill last year that was carried over into this year's session, which would require voters to show a government-issued photo ID. He recently amended it to include a voter registration card as a valid ID. The idea adds a local twist to a national debate about voter identification, and is sparking conversations throughout the state.

At Saint Benedict parish in North Omaha around lunch time last week, some two dozen seniors were playing cards, or dominos, while others worked on cross word puzzles.

"If it's mandatory just to vote, I think that they should supply it," said James Lewis. As a senior citizen, Lewis is part of a group that could be negatively impacted by Janssen's bill, according to those opposed to it. Seniors who no longer drive, and the poor, who may not drive at all, could find it more difficult to get a photo ID. Lewis said the bill wouldn't affect him because he has a driver's license, but he said many of his peers don't drive, and see no need to have state identification cards.

"Why would you want to put a burden on somebody just to vote?" he asked. "I think if they want to make it mandatory, then give them an ID."

Modwena Roach said she's been working at the voter polls for over 20 years, and she supports the bill because it would improve the voting process.

"If you had the ID and the voter registration card, you'd know you're in the right place," she said. "And we know we're speaking to the right people."

Roach said she's sure people sometimes cast a vote for a family member. "And you would have no way of knowing that without that ID," she said. "That ID would ensure that everything is on the up and up."

But Lewis replied, "I think we have enough regulations according to voting right now. We really don't need anymore So why, why change it? It's fine the way it is."

But Senator Janssen said his amendments to his bill would quell those concerns. When it was initially introduced, his bill required a government-issued photo ID, and stated if a person isn't able to buy one, the Department of Motor Vehicles would offer them one at no cost. Now, Janssen has changed it to include a voter registration card as a valid ID. That, Janssen said, would only cost the state about $15,000. He said 98 percent of Nebraska residents have ID cards, so the other two percent could use their voter registration card.

"It's a very nominal cost to ensure that the elections are accurate and people feel good about casting their ballot," he said. "There's been a lot of misinformation out there by opponents of this bill talking about millions of dollars that it will cost. Flatly put, that is a lie put out by the opponents of this bill, and that's just not the case."

Janssen also said if a person doesn't bring a photo ID or registration card, they could still vote with a provisional ballot. "It's our constitutional right to vote," he said. "We should be registered and it should be the right person that's voting. We need to protect that right."

But even with the amendments, many still oppose the bill. At a press conference last week, Dr. Larry Bradley with American GI Form of South Omaha stood with several other advocacy groups representing women, minorities and senior citizens.

"The United States of America and the state of Nebraska should not be pulled back into the 1960s," Bradley said. Bradley said he and the other groups oppose Jannsen's bill because it could suppress the voices of the people they represent.

"For all that the many people behind me, beside me, beside us fought for, worked hard for to make sure that there was fair voting fair elections we need not have this in the state of Nebraska."

Bradley will join the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, and Omaha church leaders to lobby against the bill in Lincoln Wednesday. Janssen said the bill could go up for debate in the full legislature as early as this week.




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