Bills seek Nebraska voter ID, would nix most voting by mail

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Bills introduced Tuesday in the Nebraska Legislature address a voter ID requirement passed in November by voters, but also add measures that critics say are designed to make it harder to vote.

Two bills introduced by state Sen. Steve Erdman, of Bayard, go beyond simply requiring government-issued photo identification to be presented to vote. While the measures would make primary and general election days state holidays and would cancel some fees to acquire IDs, they also would largely eliminate voting by mail for all except those who could show an inability to go to the polls, such as registered military members, nursing home residents and those away at college. One of his bills would also require all ballots to be counted on Election Day.

Erdman said Tuesday the measures are meant to ensure election integrity. He repeated conspiracy theories circulated since the 2020 presidential election of ballot harvesting and voting machine tampering. Erdman said he doesn’t know if there has been widespread voting fraud.

“But the perception is — there is,” Erdman said. “And perception is reality.”

Nebraska has no history of widespread voter fraud, but supporters of the voter ID requirement have said the law is needed to prevent possible future problems — a sentiment Erdman echoed.

Similar measures have been approved in a number of Republican-controlled states nationwide, but Nebraska Republicans’ previous efforts to do so in the officially nonpartisan Legislature were unable to overcome opponents who said such voter ID laws are meant to discourage voter turnout by minorities and others who are less likely to have appropriate ID and tend to vote for Democrats.

When efforts in the Legislature failed in 2021, a petition effort — bankrolled by then-Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts’ mother — was launched to get the measure on last November’s ballot.

“This has consequences for everyone — but especially rural, disabled, low-income and senior Nebraskans,” said Sen. Megan Hunt, of Omaha, who has been a staunch critic of the voter ID efforts. Nebraska’s new voter ID requirement will cost millions in taxpayer dollars to implement and “does not make our elections more secure.”

The Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union will be watching what lawmakers offer this session as a way to implement the voter-passed ID measure, said Jane Seu, legal and policy counsel with ACLU Nebraska. The organization will actively oppose those by Erdman, which she said were “clear attempts at voter suppression.”

Erdman rejected those criticisms. He noted that his county sends mail-in ballot applications to everyone who’s registered to vote, and the last election’s turnout was still under 60%.

“I’m not saying we should discourage anyone from voting,” he said. “This is just a common-sense approach to prevent any fraud.”

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