With the 2023 legislative session in Lincoln winding down to a final handful of days, a major remaining item of unfinished business is voter identification.
Three senators introduced voter ID proposals this year, and I am grateful for the hard work by Sens. Julie Slama, Steve Erdman, and Jen Day. I am also grateful for the work of Speaker John Arch and Secretary of State Bob Evnen, and for the guidance of Attorney General Mike Hilgers and the scores of county election officials who offered their input along the way.
Each of the senators who introduced voter ID bills had a different vision for how voter ID might work. However, after our committee reviewed each of these bills, none of them was ready for primetime. It is the job of each legislative committee to refine and improve legislation sent to it. The committees must try to figure out what the best way to accomplish a policy goal might be. We also have to be careful to observe the constitutional boundaries of our legislative powers, as well as any federal laws that might dictate what options we have.
When it comes to voting rights, there are numerous constitutional and statutory protections in place. We cannot just make things up as we go along. Every new change to election law must comply with these constitutional and legal provisions if they are going to remain on the books. Thankfully, 35 states have already implemented voter ID. These state laws have been thoroughly tested in the courts. Those court opinions provide a road map for us in creating a new voter ID law for Nebraska.
Since our first voter ID hearing in committee back in January, we have been working to develop a proposal that would meet these constitutional and legal requirements. We have now worked through more than a dozen amendment versions in an attempt to deliver a viable bill. But now we are out of time, with only days remaining in this legislative session.
This past week, the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee voted overwhelmingly to advance a version of voter ID that I believe can pass the Legislature, can be made operational by our election officials, and can withstand review by the courts.
The committee’s proposal will allow us to use valid photographic IDs to verify the identity of a voter before they cast a ballot in any Nebraska election. That was the task that Nebraskans gave us last November at the ballot box.
Unfortunately, some conservatives have announced that they oppose this action of the committee. They want to add additional steps to the voter registration process, they want to require other people to witness your voting, and in some cases, they want to require the use of a notary public for early voting. Relying on the advice of my committee counsel and other attorneys, whose opinions I take seriously, I believe these options would put the whole project in jeopardy. They would violate the voting rights of military service members, college students, the elderly, and many other people who have a constitutional right to vote.
The Nebraska Legislature has an obligation to obey the will of the people and to pass voter ID. We cannot afford to waste precious time and taxpayer money on a special session. I would encourage all Nebraskans to contact their state senators and express support for a clean, simple voter ID bill that can be in place for the 2024 elections.
Tom Brewer represents dist. 43 — most of the Sandhills — in the Nebraska legislature. Contact his office with any comments, questions, or concerns. Email email@example.com, mail a letter to Sen. Tom Brewer, Room 1423, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509, or call (402) 471-2628.
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