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Decrease the Vote?

Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont introduced a bill — and promised to make it his “priority bill” — that would cost our state millions, decrease voting and “answers” a problem that does not even exist. The so-called “voter-ID law” is widely seen as a voting suppression tactic and is often criticized on numerous levels.

 Janssen’s voter-ID bill is based on a law that passed in Indiana and one being copied in a handful of states by extreme-conservative legislators.  Sen. Janssen’s constituents deserve to know that he has a knack for copying legislation instead of writing his own bills that actually solve Nebraska problems, but that is another blog post.

The voter-ID bills accomplish one thing for sure: they end up costing the states millions of dollars.

Yesterday, both the Lincoln Journal Star and Nebraska Watchdog wrote about the many concerns of the bill from cost, to disenfranchising voters and highlighting the potential lawsuits.

The hearing on the bill drew opposition from AARP, Nebraska Appleseed, Common Cause, Nebraskans for Civic Reform, ACLU and disability groups. Bold Nebraska’s full testimony given at the hearing is at the end of this post.

During the hearing, Janssen reiterated over and over again that the bill has a ZERO fiscal note, meaning that implementation of the law will not cost the state a dime.  Several committee members questioned how this could be, knowing the state would have to provide free IDs or the law would be unconstitutional (we should note that the committee knew the IDs would cost lots of money because of the great work of groups like Common Cause and honest state workers at the DMV).

But Janssen stood very firm on his “zero fiscal note” promise.  He also reiterated this was about reducing voter fraud, even though Nebraska has no documented widespread cases of voter fraud.

Turns out the Nebraska DMV notified the state a voter-ID law would indeed cost money, and a lot at that.  This was no surprise to any of us that have done work in civic engagement and voting laws.  However, what was troubling was that Janssen still provided a ZERO fiscal note to the bill he introduced.

Indiana, which is the state Janssen said he was modeling his bill after, says implementing the law will cost their state over $12 million.  Last time I checked, we are facing a $1 billion dollar budget gap.  Adding another $12 million for something that will needlessly grow government –probably not the best idea.

Right now, in order to register to vote in our state, you must:

  • Be a United States Citizen;
  • Be at least 18 years of age on or before the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November;
  • Live in the State of Nebraska;
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, or if convicted, at least two years have passed since the completion of your sentence for the felony including any parole term;
  • Have not been officially found to be mentally incompetent.

Nowhere in our current laws does it say you need to provide a government issued photo ID to vote.  Why?  Because it is against the law unless you provide that ID for free to everyone.  Otherwise, our state would be issuing what is called a “poll tax,” and that is unconstitutional.

Now, you may think, “What is so bad about showing a photo ID when you vote?” Not much on the surface.

But think about Nebraskans who are older, live in a nursing home and do not drive.  Or how about young people who do not own a car and take the bus to work?  There are also folks who do not own a car, and so they do not have a driver’s license.  There is also the story of the twelve nuns who could not vote in Indiana because they did not have the proper photo ID.

Demos, a national expert on voter laws, explains, “There is a wide range of ID laws across the country — half the states do not require identification from most voters and employ signature verification, which has always worked very well, other states require ID but it can be one of a wide variety and not necessarily with a photograph, a few states request photo ID but if you do not have it you can affirm that you are who you say you are under penalty of perjury and cast a regular ballot.”

Whenever a bill is introduced that puts up barriers to vote, you have to wonder what the real intentions are behind the bill.  Hopefully, we will hear more from Janssen on what his intentions are.

If his intentions are to make our voting system more valid and get more Nebraskans engaged in our democracy, than maybe he will pass same day election voter registration.  That would be a great move and show us all that Janssen wants to increase the vote, not decrease the vote.

 

Testimony

LB 239: Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee
Jane Fleming Kleeb, Bold Nebraska

For several years I worked on studying and implementing programs to increase young people’s civic engagement.  I worked in both non-partisan and partisan programs.  There are many myths around the youth vote.  At times, it is as if elected officials and candidates think the youth vote is some mythical unicorn that only a select few can capture.

The reality is there are many barriers that prevent young people from voting at the same rates as older voters—one of those barriers is in front of you today.

Implementing a restrictive voter-ID law may sound like a good idea on face value but in fact the end result is fewer Nebraskans voting.

Already, only 27% of young people voted in 2010 and 48% voted in 2008 in our state, compared to over 60% and 73% respectively of older voters. 

A voter-ID law will further decrease that number, not increase it.  If we, as a state, are serious about increasing civic engagement, we would pass a same day election registration law not a restrictive and expensive voter-ID law.

A fiscal note of “zero” for this bill is just not possible.  You cannot force Americans to pay for an ID in order to vote.  This is unconstitutional and is a “poll tax.”  Therefore, the state would need to offer photo IDs at no cost to Nebraskans—not to mention the mailings you would need to do to inform potential voters who do not currently have an ID, new training for staff, printing of additional provisional ballots, etc. 

A voter-ID law will simply require more government staff and will require additional government funds to pay for these new photo IDs.  In today’s tough economic times and as our state faces an almost $1billion dollar deficit, this is not the time to add more economic burden on to our counties and state.  It is not a time to grow government for a problem that simply does not exist.

The “non-existent problem” I am referring to is voter fraud.  There is no proof of any widespread voter fraud right now in our state, and there is no proof that a voter-ID law would stop any such fraud.  In fact, as stated in last year’s hearing on same day election registration the point was raised that “Department of Justice’s initiative in prosecuting voter fraud resulted in only 40 prosecutions nationwide for election crimes related to illegal voting between 2002 and 2005[1].”

The only thing a voter-ID law will do is put up more barriers to Nebraskans voting.  Our country and state pride ourselves on ensuring that Americans have a voice in our democracy.  This bill would silence voices—especially young voices—at a time when we can all agree we need more Nebraskans engaged in our democratic process.

[1] Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, Interim study to examine the issue of Election Day Registration, October 16, 2009

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BOLD Nebraska
208 S. Burlington Ave., Ste 103, Box 325, Hastings, NE 68901