FAQs about Nebraska’s voter ID scheme

Politicians are aiming to rewrite the Nebraska Constitution with a strict photo ID requirement in order to vote in Nebraska. This proposal would severely restrict voters via lengthy, repetitive steps – and disqualify otherwise eligible voters with technicalities. Here are answers to some of our most frequently asked questions about this measure.

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›› 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 democratic republic is not supposed to be transactional, like going to the store. We should not casually assume everyone in Nebraska’s life experience and access 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 initiative’s language that this won’t hinder anyone’s right to vote?

The initiative’s language does include a line about preserving individual rights under the U.S. and Nebraska Constitutions. That was likely added to prevent officials or judges 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 likely 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 language has stood the test of time, but now we’re being told it isn’t good enough. This puts Nebraskans’ clear, fundamental right to vote in 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 quite different. If this rewrite 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 require IDs to vote. 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.

Credit: National Conference of State Legislatures

The longer answer is that most states with identification requirements accept many different kinds of IDs. But not Nebraska, if this initiative succeeds. Nebraska would become one of the most narrow and restrictive states in the nation in terms of the kind of ID that would allow you to vote.

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 wouldn’t work just from that language: 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 such language.

›› 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 works. It’s safe, secure, and has the force of law behind it.

This current voter restriction scheme, however, seeks 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.

That’s a small price to pay to restore faith in our elections, isn’t it?

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 study each election closely and say this confidently: Nebraska’s elections are secure and efficient. There is no evidence of voter impersonation anywhere in our state, ever.

Arizona voters celebrating their obvious peace of mind about their state having some of the strictest voter ID requirements in the nation.

Further, ID measures like the one being floated in Nebraska have proven to have very little to no effect on improving views on election integrity in states that burden their voters with them. 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 baselessly alleging that those elections were somehow “fraudulent,” however. Those states’ strict ID laws did nothing to uphold faith in our elections among people who are bound and determined to believe they are somehow rigged against their preferred candidate.

These kinds of restrictions do nothing to make anyone feel better, but they certainly 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.

Same guy? These photos were taken within a year of each other.

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. Our best estimate with the most current statewide data indicates that at least 54,500 to 70,000 Nebraskans of voting age do not possess the “valid photo ID” that would be required to vote. And that’s not even considering those who have moved addresses, changed their names, gained or lost considerable weight, or experienced other life changes without rushing to DMV every time.

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. The politicians behind it are hoping to get you to just not care.

›› 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.

Fiscal responsibility is as fiscal responsibility does.

So in order to get “valid IDs” (and remember, the definition of ‘valid’ would 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.

›› But I don’t trust (fill in your least-favorite political party here) to play fair.

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 is not a partisan issue. This is a constitutional issue – and we can’t just casually throw away our rights in exchange for useless security theater.

›› Don’t you think this should be up to the people to decide?

Not if the initiative is being misrepresented while leading to severely undemocratic consequences. There’s an irony in waving the populist banner and asking a small number of Nebraskans to decide which of their fellow Nebraskans should or shouldn’t have the ability, opportunity, and right to vote. Using democratic means for undemocratic ends is an age-old tactic around the world, and we don’t need these tactics in Nebraska.

We cannot support what is clearly a transparent scheme to make it more difficult for Nebraskans to freely and fairly cast their ballots. To learn more, click here.

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Gene Williams
1 year ago

Thanx for this info; it’s the most persuasive info I’ve read so far on this issue.

Nancy Northcutt
1 year ago

Photo IDs are flawed to begin with. We age, we gain and lose weight, dye our hair, lose our hair, grow or remove facial hair, wear glasses for DMV photos, but not for other photos, and, depending on our health, we can look completely different from one year to the next. Why can’t we use a thumb print? How much could that sort of technology cost? Either it’s you, or it’s not. No discussion needed. No explanation required. Have a thumb print recorded once, maybe entered into a national data base, like getting a social security number, no further action… Read more »

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