LINCOLN — Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale thinks he has a less expensive, less intrusive “Nebraska” solution to the politically charged issue of requiring voters to present identification before casting a ballot.
But it was hard to find anyone who liked his compromise plan on Wednesday.
Gale said he plans to seek legislation that will require only a portion of registered voters — about 75,000 — to present ID before voting.
Everyone else, about 94 percent of the 1.2 million registered voters in Nebraska, would not have to present ID.
The secretary of state said his “voter integrity” proposal resolves his concerns about previous voter ID legislation, which he felt would cost too much money to implement and would place a burden on too many people.
He said his plan would target a segment of registered voters most susceptible to impersonation. Those are voters who have informed the post office of a move from a county but have failed to confirm that with election officials.
“This is a Nebraska answer to the issue of voter integrity,” Gale said.
But his plan got an immediate thumbs down from both the sponsor and opponents of a more comprehensive voter ID bill pending before the Nebraska Legislature.
State Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont, who introduced Legislative Bill 381, said that he's glad that Gale has “finally come to the party” but that his proposal doesn't go far enough in warding off voter fraud.
“This sounds like selective enforcement,” Janssen said. “Given my druthers, I'd rather have the 'Nebraska way' be that everyone shows their ID.”
In 2012, the senator came within three votes of halting a filibuster and advancing a bill to require all Nebraska voters to provide government-issued photographic identification.
Janssen, a Republican candidate for governor, tried again last year with a similar measure, but LB 381 failed to advance from the Legislature's Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.
Two opponents of voter ID measures said that even the secretary of state's scaled-down version of voter ID serves to attack a problem that doesn't exist: fraudulent voting in Nebraska.
“Before we impose these burdens, there needs to be evidence of a problem,” said Adam Morfeld of Nebraskans for Civic Reform, a voting rights group.
Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln, chairman of the government committee, said he's willing to look at Gale's ideas, but he has not been presented with any credible cases of voter fraud. He said voter ID bills are designed to suppress voting by the elderly and minorities — groups more likely to support Democrats and who might have problems obtaining the proper identification.
“This is part of a nationwide campaign by the Republican Party that doesn't have any place in Nebraska,” said Avery, a Democrat.
Gale said he has “absolutely no evidence of systematic voter fraud,” though there have been a handful of “individual, isolated episodes.” He was not specific.
A total of 34 states have enacted some form of a voter ID law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nebraska and Iowa are among the states that don't require ID, but both have bills ready for consideration in 2014.
In Nebraska, Janssen's voter ID bill will most likely face a filibuster if it comes up for debate this year. That means it would require the votes of 33 of 49 senators to advance. Janssen said Wednesday that he doubts that he can muster that kind of supermajority.
But Gale, who was officially neutral on the ID bill last year, said he senses that there's interest in a lower-cost, less burdensome approach.
Much of the opposition to Janssen's proposals, he said, sprang from the estimated cost of educating voters and poll workers about blanket ID requirements. He said his proposal would cost less because it would affect only 6 percent of the state's voters.
Gale said that as a conservative, he believes government should not place a burden on people without a good reason. But he's concerned about a group of about 100,000 voters at any given time who have told the post office they've moved but have failed to confirm that.
Gale said he thinks he has the power to deal with about 25,000 of those voters. That's because the National Voter Registration Act applies only to people who move to a new county or state, he said. Thus, he believes he has the legal authority to issue an executive order to remove from voter rolls those 25,000 voters who move within the same county.
That led him to focus his proposal on the remaining 75,000 registered voters he calls “phantom voters” most susceptible to potential fraud.
Those voters have notified the post office that they've moved to a new address, but have not responded to letters sent by county election officials to confirm that. Without such confirmation, election officials cannot remove their names from voter lists unless they've fail to vote in two consecutive federal general elections, according to the National Voter Registration Act.
Morfeld, the voting rights advocate and a candidate for Legislature, said that just because some voters don't respond to a letter, that doesn't mean they should be subject to new requirements.
Gale said it's possible that a “dishonest” person could hire people to impersonate such voters. They could show up at their old polling places, and without presenting ID, could vote, he said.
“Is it happening? No,” Gale said. “It is a potential fraud issue? Yes.”
That group of voters is already flagged on polling place lists as having moved, according to Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps. But right now, he said, if they show up to vote, poll workers can ask them only to attest to their current address and cannot ask for ID.
Phipps, who has been publicly neutral on voter ID proposals, said his first impression of Gale's proposal is that it's a reasonable attempt by a “conscientious” official at striking a balance.
“I don't think anyone would look at (Gale) as someone who's a rabid partisan who would try to suppress the vote,” he said.
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