›› You have to have an ID at stores, bars, banks, and to drive. Why not to vote?
Because shopping, drinking, banking, and driving are not rights that are enshrined in both the U.S. and Nebraska Constitutions. Our democracy is not transactional. Our polling places are not stores. And we should not casually assume everyone in Nebraska’s life experience is the same as ours. Especially when it comes to voting, our most cherished right under our federal and state Constitutions.
Want to make Nebraska’s elections better? Great, so do we. That certainly can be accomplished without violating Nebraskans’ inherent rights to participate in them. And that means we must approach our elections as citizens, not consumers.
›› Doesn’t it say in the petition language that this won’t hinder anyone’s right to vote?
The petition language does include a line about preserving individual rights under the U.S. and Nebraska Constitutions. That was likely added to prevent officials from disqualifying the initiative from the 2022 Nebraska ballot (in the event petitioners gather enough signatures).
This is a big red flag, and it betrays the proposed amendment’s real motive. Can you imagine the confidence we’d have in the U.S. or Nebraska Constitutions if all of their articles had to explicitly state “as long as it isn’t unconstitutional” in them? Isn’t that the point of a Constitution in the first place?
Nebraska was born during an argument over voting rights. As a result, it has arguably the clearest and most powerful language of any state Constitution about ensuring our elections are free and fair, without unnecessary hindrances: All elections shall be free; and there shall be no hindrance or impediment to the right of a qualified voter to exercise the elective franchise. This clear, fundamental right is now in clear danger.
Throughout U.S. history, there’s an unfortunate tradition of laws like the one being proposed, which say one thing for judges to consider but in practice mean something entirely different. If this revision to our state Constitution comes to pass, what matters is how it is put into practice. And this we guarantee: It will deny many Nebraskans the ability and opportunity to vote.
›› Lots of other states have these kinds of things. Why not Nebraska?
The short answer is because we’re Nebraska, not these other states. Some states have same-day voter registration, why not Nebraska? Some states have universal vote-by-mail, why not Nebraska? Because we’re Nebraska, with unique values, culture, and priorities.
The longer answer is that most states with identification requirements accept many different kinds of IDs. If this initiative succeeds, Nebraska would become one of the most narrow and restrictive states in the nation.
How do we know this? First, the petition language mentions “valid photographic identification” as a requirement. Second, it leaves it open for politicians to determine what “valid” means.
We already know a few that won’t work: No birth certificates. No Social Security cards. No student, business, or even some military IDs.
As if that’s not scary enough, your driver’s license might not be enough to get you a ballot, either. Did you move recently? Get married? Change your name? Gain or lose significant weight? Change your hair? Get glasses? If so, you might rightly think your ID is still “current” and enough to rightfully access your ballot. But it might not be “valid” under this proposal.
›› What’s wrong with the extra assurance that checking IDs gives us?
It’s important to remember that Nebraska voters already do provide IDs – when we register to vote. Then, we re-verify our identities each and every time we cast a ballot by signing affidavits, either at our polling places on Election Day or on our vote-by-mail envelopes before we return them. This process is safe and secure and has worked since time immemorial.
The current voter restriction scheme wants to add a series of additional steps to vote. It’s the election equivalent of TSA checking your ID when you get your airline ticket, when you enter the airport, when you go through the first security desk, again at the gate, and finally, when you find your seat – and then kicking you off the plane if you accidentally sat in your spouse’s spot instead of the one on your ticket.
Faith in our institutions is something Civic Nebraska studies and works on – a lot. It’s a cornerstone of democracy, and it’s why we work to improve our elections so they can be the very best they can be. We can say confidently that Nebraska’s elections are secure and efficient, and there is no evidence of voter impersonation anywhere in our state, ever.
Further, ID measures like the one being floated in Nebraska have proven to have very little to noeffect on improving views on election integrity. For example: In 2020, there was intense attention on, accusations about, and anger over the election results in Arizona and Georgia. Both of these states have strict identification requirements.
Those strict requirements certainly didn’t keep politicians and partisans from alleging that those elections were somehow “fraudulent,” however. All it did was further erode faith in our elections, despite all evidence to the contrary.
In the long run, these kinds of restrictions do nothing to make anyone feel better. But they certainly do make it harder for everyone to vote.
›› But wouldn’t this make our elections even a little bit more secure?
They’d make them more complicated, but not more secure. Imagine needing to make photocopies of your ID – twice – to first request and then cast an absentee ballot. Imagine being turned away from your polling place on Election Day because a part-time poll worker is put in the unenviable position of being an ID expert. Imagine having to wait to cast a provisional ballot (or a “ballot of last resort”), because of a question or confusion over anything on your ID at the discretion of the part-time poll worker. And imagine having to wait in long lines to vote. In Nebraska.
Nebraska already has secure elections – they are the envy of the nation and have a long history of nonpartisan integrity, accuracy, and transparency. This is not in dispute. It includes requiring voters to present proper identification when they register and then signing an affidavit when they vote, both in person or via absentee ballot, under the threat of harsh legal penalty.
This secure system has worked for decades and decades. It’s not broken, and we don’t need to fix it.
›› This doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. Doesn’t everyone in Nebraska already have a valid ID?
No, the simple answer is that they don’t. Consider JS, a 79-year-old lifelong voter who has gradually lost her sight over the past decade. This keeps her from driving, and while she holds onto her driver’s license, it has long since expired. A shut-in, JS can’t get to the DMV to get an ID. She also can’t use a computer. Yet, she votes in person in every election at her usual polling place. Under this proposal, JS would be turned away after a lifetime of voting in Nebraska.
It’s been proven to be more difficult for older voters, low-income Nebraskans, young people and students, Black and brown voters, and rural Nebraskans to obtain (and maintain) what would likely constitute a “valid ID” under this ill-advised proposal. That’s also not in dispute.
›› Can’t the state just give everyone an ID so they can vote?
Great idea! We were about to say that if you force people to buy a government-issued ID to vote, that’s equivalent to a poll tax, a disgraceful relic of the Jim Crow era.
OK, so in order to get “valid IDs” (remember, ‘valid’ is going to be up to politicians to decide) in everyone’s hands, all we have to do is provide identification cards free of charge. That would likely mean opening new ID-issuing agencies or expanding existing agencies’ hours; adding more technology to produce more IDs where needed; creating or revising voter information and outreach materials to reflect the change; and spending untold hours training everyone at the state and county levels on all of the changes, as well as paying for the extra hours required to generate the cards. That’s going to cost millions of our taxpayer dollars. The most recent estimate from the state was nearly $3 million in the first year alone and nearly $1 million a year forever after to maintain such a scheme.
Remember this the next time you curse a rough state highway, identify unattended repairs in our state parks, hear a Nebraska politician say there’s not enough money to pay for certain state services, or when you receive your Nebraska tax bill.
›› Shouldn’t we have this, though, to make sure there’s no cheating? It can only help, and I don’t trust (fill in your least-favorite political party here) to play fair.
This is a constitutional issue – and we can’t just casually throw away our rights in exchange for useless security theater. This used to be a nonpartisan issue, but unfortunately, politicians have succeeded in making it partisan. To do so, they must conveniently convince you to ignore the fact that Nebraska elections are already run very well, are extremely secure and are a model for the nation.
Don’t take our word for it. Of the nearly 25 million statewide ballots cast in Nebraska since 1972, there have been exactly zero documented cases of voter impersonation. Even the politicians behind this latest scheme concede this fact.
›› This petition is simply to put it on the ballot. Don’t you think this should be up to the people to decide?
Not if the initiative would lead to severely undemocratic consequences. There’s a certain irony in waving the populist banner and asking Nebraskans to decide which of their fellow Nebraskans should and shouldn’t have the ability, opportunity, and right to vote. Friends, that’s as undemocratic as it comes. We cannot support what is clearly a transparent scheme to make it hard for Nebraskans to freely and fairly cast their ballots.