Nebraska voter ID bill passes, despite filibuster by lawmaker

Jun 1, 2023, 1:18 PM | Updated: 4:46 pm

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers passed a bill Thursday to comply with a voter ID requirement mandated by voters in November, with the lone vote against it coming from the lawmaker who led the effort to have it placed on the ballot.

The 41-1 vote came on the last day of the 2023 legislative session and despite a filibuster effort by conservative Sen. Julie Slama, who chaired the referendum effort that saw the voter ID question put on last November’s ballot.

Slama has railed against the bill, saying it fails to go far enough to protect the integrity of elections. Nebraska has no history of widespread voter fraud, but Slama and other supporters of the voter ID requirement say it’s needed to prevent possible future problems.

The bill that passed, which was brought by fellow Republican Sen. Tom Brewer and the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee he chairs, allows a wide array of photo identification that voters could present at the polls. IDs would include passports, driver’s licenses, military and tribal IDs and Nebraska college IDs. Even expired IDs would be allowed as long as they have the voter’s name and photo. Residents of hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living centers would be able to use patient documents that include a photo.

Slama takes issue with some exceptions made for those who show up at the polls without a photo ID, which would allow them to cast a provisional ballot but require them to present a valid ID to election officials within a week for the vote to be counted. Some rare photo ID exceptions would also be made, such as for those with religious objections to being photographed.

Slama, who has called the bill “fraud-friendly,” also opposes a provision allowing those voting by mail to include the number from their driver’s license or state ID card or a copy of an accepted document. Defenders of that allowance noted it protects those counties in the state’s most rural areas that hold most elections by mail. Eleven Nebraska counties currently hold elections exclusively by mail.

Slama had wanted the bill to include far-reaching requirements, including notarization of mail-in ballots, audits of witness signatures for mail-in ballots and verification of voters’ citizenship, even after they were already required to show that proof at the time they registered to vote. Some election officials have said that would fall counter to constitutional law and could disenfranchise some voters in rural Nebraska.

Those concerns did not deter Slama on Thursday, who filibustered for the allowed two hours on the final round of debate on the bill.

Slama said she knew the bill would pass, but that she was using the filibuster to establish a record to be used for what she promised would be a legal challenge to the measure from voter ID proponents. Her filibuster drew the ire of even her fellow conservative lawmakers, some of whom said it would force them to stay another night in Lincoln instead of being able to drive the hundreds of miles home to western Nebraska.

“I see a voter ID framework without voter ID,” Slama said. “I don’t blame the Government Committee or anyone in the body for this bill. That lies squarely at the feet of a member of the executive branch. And that’s Secretary of State Bob Evnen.”

Evnen has pushed back against Slama’s criticisms, saying he has long supported a voter ID bill, but would draw the line at anything that led to voter suppression.

“Nebraska’s 2022 elections were conducted efficiently, accurately, securely and in accordance with law,” Evnen said earlier this week at a U.S. Senate committee hearing on election security. “Our election officials across the state did an exemplary job of conducting an accurate and secure election.”

An audit conducted by Evnen’s office of the state’s general election in November that included 10% of Nebraska’s precincts showed no voter fraud. Election officials checked at least one precinct in each of the state’s 93 counties as part of that audit, hand-counting 48,292 ballots, Evnen said. Of those, only 11 discrepancies were found that amounted to five ballots that were marked too lightly for a machine counter to read and the other six ballots being misfiled or misplaced.

Like other election officials — even Republican ones — across the country, Evnen has been a popular target among those who believe rigged. Evnan has defended his office’s work on the bill.

Brewer also defended the bill, noting that 92 county election commissioners out of Nebraska’s 93 counties signed off on it. The lone holdout was Sarpy County Election Commissioner Emily Ethington — who is also Slama’s sister.

Gov. Jim Pillen signed the bill into law Thursday.

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Nebraska voter ID bill passes, despite filibuster by lawmaker