Capitol: Voter ID bill falls short and Legislature moves toward tightening dropout standards
March 28th, 2012
Lincoln, NE – A controversial proposal to require voters to show an ID has failed and the state is moving to make it tougher to drop out of school.
The voter ID proposal was sponsored by Fremont Sen. Charlie Janssen. It would have required voters to show a photo ID, or a card that county election officials would send to voters who didn’t have a driver’s license or state ID card.
Supporters said it would help protect the integrity of elections, opponents said it would suppress votes from poor people and others who tend not to have IDs.
Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, an opponent, said it would already be difficult under existing law to impersonate another voter, something supporters of the ID requirement said they were trying to prevent. “If you’re going to commit voter fraud right now you’re going to go in, pretend to be somebody else, hope that the poll worker doesn’t know you, hope you get the address right, hope you look the same age as the person whose age is on the list, hope they haven’t voted by mail which you wouldn’t know, hope they didn’t already sign in and hope that they don’t come later. That’s a lot of hope,” he said.
But Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, a supporter of the proposal, said it wouldn’t be that difficult to impersonate another voter. Lautenbaugh said the process would start with finding the name of someone who is registered but has a history of not voting. “You go to their polling place and you vote for them. You don’t have to say who you are. And if someone catches it after the fact, what are they going to do to you?” he asked. “They don’t know who you are. You said you were the person who didn’t vote who’s in the book. And you could do that 20 times at 20 different precincts. And depending on how observant the staff was, you could do it twice at the same precinct.”
Sen. Tom Hansen of North Platte said requiring an ID to vote was nothing more than is required for many other activities. “You have to have an ID to donate blood, to rent a vehicle, to obtain school transcripts if you move out of state. You still have to have an ID to tell who you are. Even though we know who we are, they may not. We’re so used to showing an ID for so many things any more, that this is a logical step that just proves that you are who you are,” he said.
But Omaha Sen. Burke Harr said the law should not hinder people’s ability to vote. “This is about protecting a fundamental right to vote. We are protecting the constitution. What this bill does though, is people who have done nothing wrong – nothing illegal – repeat, nothing illegal — we are going to deny their right to vote,” he said.
With opponents continuing to filibuster against the bill, Janssen moved for cloture, to end debate and vote on the bill. Cloture requires 33 votes, and he got only 30, with 16 senators opposed, effectively killing the bill for this year. Afterwards, Janssen complained that the voting was largely along partisan lines, with only a few Democrats supporting the measure and only a few Republicans opposed. He said it’s likely he’ll introduce more legislation on the issue in the future.
On another subject, the Legislature moved one step closer to making it more difficult for students to drop out of school. Currently, students can drop out once they reach age 16 if a parent or guardian approves. Under the bill by Sen. John Wightman of Lexington, they would first have to meet with school officials. The parent or guardian would have to show that the student either had an illness that prevented them from continuing or needed to drop out to help support the family. Officials would have to talk to them about alternative educational opportunities, and about how dropping out would reduce their job prospects.
Sen. Greg Adams of York, chairman of the Education committee, supported the bill. “We’re not saying that you can’t leave. But we’re making it, honestly, a bit more difficult. And we’re making sure that everybody in the decisionmaking process has had an opportunity to encourage that young man or woman to stay in school and to finish it out,” he said.
Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins said he couldn’t support the legislation. “I think we are taking the ultimate decision away from the parent and leaving it with the state and the schools,” he said.
Senators voted 25-9 to give the bill the second of three approvals it would require before being sent to the governor.