On Nov. 8, Nebraskans will decide if IDs will be required to vote in the future

Nov. 2, 2022, 6 a.m. ·

Douglas County, Nebraska prepares for one of its highest expected voter turnouts in primaries history.
Candidate filing for the May 2024 statewide primary in Nebraska began January 5. The deadline for filing is February 15 for incumbents and March 1 for other candidates. (Photo by Grant Gerlock/Nebraska Public Media News)

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When voters go to the polls on Nov. 8, they'll be asked to decide on a constitutional amendment that, if approved, would change the way they vote for the foreseeable future. You currently don’t need a photo ID to cast a ballot, but the passage of Amendment 432 would change that.

Lincoln resident Lacy Smith is a critic of Amendment 432. Smith has Ehlers–Danlos syndrome, a genetic disease which, in her case, makes her joints unstable and able to dislocate easily.

“My wrists dislocate, my hips dislocate,” she said. “Sometimes it's like I've dislocated my hip 26 times in a day.”

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Lincoln Resident Lacy Smith has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and is a critic of a proposed photo ID law in Nebraska ( Photo Courtesy of Lacy Smith)

To get around, Smith uses a walker. When she writes, she wears finger braces to prevent her knuckles from bending backward. She’s also immunocompromised. She fears that if a photo ID is required to vote in Nebraska, she would be put in a tough position: If she votes by mail, she risks her signature not matching the one on her ID due to her disability. If she votes in person, she potentially faces a risk to her health.

“Is the security and the peace of mind of knowing that people won't fraudulently vote worth dissuading people from voting or making it harder for people to vote?,” asks Smith. “Yeah, it's not worth it for me at all.”

Fears of voter suppression in cases like Smith’s are one of the main points of opposition to Amendment 432 and photo ID laws in Nebraska in general. Civic Nebraska, an officially non-partisan voting rights organization, is one of the main critics of the measure.

Heather Engdahl is Civic Nebraska’s Director of Voting Rights and says her organization has identified more than 54,000 Nebraskans without valid, government-issued photo IDs whose votes would not be allowed to vote under a strict photo ID law.

“And that's just a baseline of folks who don't have an ID, to begin with,” Engdahl said. “Beyond that, the specifics of what would be considered current and valid ID, we're looking at 10s of 1000s more Nebraskans who their ID may be out of date, they may not look like the picture on their ID, and other things that would then determine that ID be invalid or not accepted at the polls.”

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Heather Engdahl is Civic Nebraska's Director of Voting Rights (Photo by William Padmore, Nebraska Public Media News)

Beyond voter suppression, Engdahl said the proposed cost of enforcing a photo ID law would be wasteful. She cited a fiscal estimate from photo ID legislation proposed in 2018 that concluded implementation would cost almost $3 million for its first year.

“When we're talking of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, there are so many things that we could be investing that money in to improve life for Nebraskans,” said Engdahl.

Julie Slama is a state senator and spokeswoman for Citizens for Voter ID, the main sponsor of Amendment 432. A longtime supporter of voter ID legislation in Nebraska, Slama says that during town halls, reception to the measure has been positive.

“The one feedback I do get from voters is why in the world haven't we implemented this already?” Slama said. “Why in the world are we priding ourselves on being the 36th state to do something that's just such common sense: that you prove that you are who you say you are when you undertake the most important civic duty in our country?”

State Sen. Julie Slama (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

Slama said that response from voters reflects what polling she’s seen has concluded for years: there’s broad support for voter ID laws in the state. She added that the only reason Nebraska didn’t implement a voter ID in 2011 when the first such bill was proposed was due to lobbying from what she calls “special interest groups,”. She called out Civic Nebraska and the ACLU of Nebraska by name.

Additionally, Slama pointed out that while Amendment 432 would compel lawmakers to create photo ID legislation, what exactly constitutes a “valid photographic identification ”would be left up to lawmakers. In short, it may not be as strict as critics think.

“So in terms of the specifics of what a photo ID is going to mean in terms of actual definitions, that's going to follow up with the next legislature,” Slama said.

Lincoln resident Cade Larson supports amendment 432. He sees a photo ID law as a legitimate attempt at addressing election security concerns, whether there’s proof of election fraud or not.

“As far as I can tell, there are millions of Americans out there who do view this as a problem,” Larson said. “And as long as there is that amount of Americans, even if it's just a couple

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Cade Larson (left) supports photo ID requirements (Photo courtesy of Cade Larson)

Problem or not, if a voter ID law does become a reality in Nebraska, there’s a good chance both supporters and critics will be disappointed by the results. Kevin Smith is the chair of Political Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. According to multiple studies conducted over the past two decades, there’s simply no evidence to suggest that voter ID laws, no matter how strict, suppress voter turnout by any notable measure, he said.

“There's not much evidence that they do anything about voter fraud, either,” Smith said. “This seems to be one of these issues that gets people very excited and very emotional. But, ultimately, it doesn't have the effects or the impacts that either the supporters or the detractors tend to attribute to it.”

He says that’s not to say voter suppression doesn’t or won’t happen, just that, historically, much like voter fraud, it doesn’t happen in notable numbers.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story inaccurately named Lacy Smith as Lucy Smith.