LINCOLN — A skirmish over voter identification flared Thursday in the Nebraska Legislature, portending the battle that’s about to come.
The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee voted 6-2 to advance to the floor Legislative Resolution 1CA, which asks Nebraskans whether they want to put a photo ID requirement in the state constitution.
If adopted by the full Legislature, ballot language on the constitutional amendment would appear before voters in November 2018. If voters approve the amendment it will be left to state lawmakers to pass legislation spelling out what constitutes an acceptable ID and whether the state will pay for IDs for those who cannot afford them.
Supporters say voter ID laws are needed to ward against voting fraud and to improve public confidence in the election process. Opponents argue the laws infringe upon a constitutional right or are part of a strategy by partisan Republicans to reduce the impact of poor and minority voters, who tend to support Democratic candidates.
A total of 32 states have laws in force that request or require some kind of identification at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Only seven states have what are called strict photo ID laws.
The committee discussion leading up to Thursday’s vote generated some heat that fell along political lines. All six senators who voted to advance the resolution are Republicans, while the two who voted against are Democrats.
The resolution represents the personal priority of State Sen. John Murante of Gretna, who said he believes it will generate strong support on the floor.
“The overwhelming majority (of senators) think their constituents have a right to vote on it,” Murante said.
Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, who cast one of the “no” votes Thursday, said he will lead a filibuster against the resolution when it gets to the floor. That means the proposal will need at least 33 of the 49 senators to end debate and allow an up-or-down vote on the measure.
“We should not take a step back to the days of trying to discriminate by making one of our most fundamental rights — voting — harder to do,” Wayne said.
Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue said that based on her research, roughly 6 percent of a state’s registered voters lack a government photo ID. Based on the 1.2 million registered voters in Nebraska, that would equate to 72,000 voters.
She argued that the cost of a state ID card can fall out of reach for those who barely have enough to feed themselves or their families. And she quoted from federal court opinions that the possibility of voter fraud is so remote, it cannot justify infringing upon the right of a citizen to vote.
“I’m not going to open the door to disenfranchising people,” she said.
Murante strongly disagreed that his resolution would permit the Legislature to impede voters. He noted that the resolution includes language requiring any law to include exemptions for “specific situations” in which showing ID would violate an individual’s rights under the U.S. Constitution.
The exemption language was based on Indiana’s voter ID law, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008.
Murante said suggesting that he or other supporters of the resolution want to disenfranchise voters is “absurd on its face” and “beyond the pale.” And he argued there is a clear need for voter ID.
“I believe there is no such thing as an insignificant or insufficient level of voter fraud,” he said, pointing out that two men currently face felony charges in Dawson County for voting multiple times during the November election.
Also voting to advance the resolution were Sens. Tom Brewer of Gordon, John Lowe of Kearney, Tom Briese of Albion, Mike Hilgers of Lincoln and Joni Craighead of Omaha.