Voter ID agreement in sight; some senators want better lighting

May 5, 2023, midnight ·

Senators at work in the Nebraska Capitol legislative chamber Friday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Senators at work in the Nebraska Capitol legislative chamber Friday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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It looks like a compromise has been reached on a voter ID bill in the Legislature. And, as senators debated the state’s budget, they also griped about being in the dark – literally.

Last November, Nebraska voters overwhelmingly approved requiring a photo ID to vote. But the state constitutional amendment they approved left it up to the Legislature to pass a bill filling in details of how the requirement should work.

Legislators have offered a variety of proposals, each containing different details. They made suggestions on how mail-in votes should be handled, and how questions of citizenship should be addressed.

Now, it appears the lawmakers are close to an agreement. In an interview Friday, Sen. Julie Slama, who headed the pro-voter-ID ballot campaign, said “We're making strong steps in the right direction on having a final agreement on voter ID.”

Sen. Tom Brewer, chair of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee which held public hearings on the proposal, agreed with Slama.

“It's a good amendment. We have to wait and see the actual amendment when it comes from bill drafters. But if everything follows through with agreement, we should be in a good place,” he said.

Slama had earlier proposed that people would have to use a notary for mail-in ballots. Now, she says, they’ll also have the option of simply having another voter attest that they’ve seen the person’s photo ID.

“Witness attestation is the exact same system used in Wisconsin. A registered voter in the state of Nebraska would have to sign and attest that that person showed them an acceptable form of photo identification, upon completing their mail-in ballot,” she said.

She added that the witnesses would be subject to legal penalties if they abuse the system.

The proposed amendment will also spell out which kind of photo IDs would be accepted, which could include some that have expired. Brewer explained his thinking.

“The critical thing is, just kind of follow the guidance from the voters, which was that they have a picture ID at the time of them actually voting. And that's doesn't necessarily mean it has to be current, it just has to be able to identify the person and the name,” he said.

Slama said acceptable IDs will include those from nursing homes. And she said people’s citizenship will be checked at the time they register. Both senators say they hope the bill will be ready for debate the week of May 15.

In legislative floor action Friday, senators advanced another in the series of bills setting the state’s budget for the next two years. The bill adjusted state agencies’ budgets to account for unexpected expenses.

In the midst of that debate, Sen. Steve Erdman rose to complain about how dark it is in the legislative chamber and the hallways of the state Capitol. Erdman had a request for Capitol administrators.

“Go down to Menards or Home Depot or Lowe's and buy some LED lights and put the bulbs in here, so we can see… and also in the stairways. When you go down at night you can't see the steps,” Erdman said.

Erdman said the Capitol, which was built between 1922 and 1932, didn’t have to stick with lighting from that era.

“This isn't 1927. This isn't the lighting we had with incandescent bulbs. This is LED times,” he said.

Sen. Wendy DeBoer endorsed Erdman’s call, describing the benefits of brighter lighting.

“We can see more. I recently had to switch to multifocal contacts, which is like bifocals for contacts. They only really work if there's enough light. Sometimes I have trouble seeing. I think we should have LED lights. This is ridiculous… I mean, just yesterday I tripped up the stairs. It would be nice to have a little more light in the stairways,” DeBoer said.

Acting Capitol Administrator Brett Daugherty said the chandelier lights in the legislative chamber have all been switched to LED, but the wiring may limit how bright they get. Daughterty said he’s been in touch with the Clerk of the Legislature’s office to evaluate what more can be done.