In a long and sometimes emotional debate Tuesday night, the Nebraska Legislature wrestled with whether or not to require people to show ID when they vote.
Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont proposed the bill. With a suggested amendment, it would require people to show either a photo ID or a postcard county officials would mail to voters without a driver's license or state ID. Janssen described his goal in the legislation, LB239. "I introduced this legislation in order to further protect the integrity and reliability of elections. LB239 would do so by deterring and detecting voter fraud and ensuring confidence in our voting process," he declared.
Opponents called the bill unnecessary. Among them was Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop. "No one's established a problem but we certainly see the consequence of passing this. There are people who are entitled to vote under the current law that won't be able to. They won't be able to clear this hurdle. I just don't see a problem that we're fixing and I see that the fix is worse than the problem," he said.
Opponents gave examples like college students who keep their driver's licenses with their home address, but register at their college voting address. Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery questioned the reason for the legislation. "The question that really lies behind this bill is what. What is the purpose? Could it be voter suppression? Because that's probably what would happen. Because this will put a disproportionate burden on certain groups of voters: elderly, students, poor, rural and minority voters. Those who are likely to have the most difficulty meeting a photo ID requirement," he said.
But supporters like Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala said just because voter fraud hasn't been detected, doesn't mean it's not taking place. Schilz argued for prevention. "People that want to break the law, people that want to do scams, people that want to do these things look for those types of opportunities. And where they find them, they exploit them. And that's what we're talking about," he said.
Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins supported the proposal, saying veterans had fought to protect people's right to vote. "I served in Vietnam to protect this right. My son recently returned from Afghanistan to protect this right. And I don't think it's going too far to ask whoever's going to the voting place to show a piece of paper or a piece of plastic to show that identifies them as someone who has the right to vote," Bloomfield said. "The opponents tell us that there is no fraud. Well, how do we know? If no one took attendance at school, everyone would have perfect attendance," he said.
But Omaha Sen. Tanya Cook, an African American, compared the proposal to efforts at disenfranchising blacks in the South after the Civil War. "You're forgetting your history. Your American history. This is Jim Crow lite. Don't try to say that it's anything else, at least not to me directly, especially not tonight," Cook declared. "I'm just not going anywhere. I know many of you probably wish, as a woman perhaps as a woman of color, that we would just not stand up and say anything. I'm not going anywhere. Too many people have fought and bled and died for me to have a voice."
With opponents filing a series of amendments and filibustering against the bill, lawmakers adjourned for the night without reaching a first round vote on the bill. A vote on whether or not to cut off debate and advance the bill is expected Wednesday morning.