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Voter ID bill facing Republican infighting advances out of committee

A legislative committee has finally advanced a bill to comply with a voter ID requirement approved by Nebraska voters last November, but with infighting among Republicans, it’s unclear whether lawmakers have time to pass the bill before the session ends early next month.

The bill, introduced by Republican Sen. Julie Slama, was advanced from the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday after being amended to focus on photo IDs. Slama had sought more far-reaching requirements, including verification of voters' citizenship, notarization of mail-in ballots and audits of witness signatures for mail-in ballots.

The amended version would allow a wide array of photo identification voters could present at the polls, such as 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.

Those voting by mail would be allowed to include the number from their driver’s license or state ID card or a copy of an accepted document. Voters who show up without a photo ID could cast a provisional ballot but would have 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.

The amended version drew sharp criticism from Slama, who labeled it “fraud-friendly” with “no real ID requirements.” She blamed Republican Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen, saying his office tipped “the scales in favor of his unconstitutional amendment.”

“Evnen's office obstructed this process every step of the way,” Slama said. “I'm going to fight on behalf of the voters to stop this abomination.”

She has introduced an amendment to restore much of her original proposal.

Evnen has been a popular target among those who believe persistent conspiracy theories that elections in 2020 were rigged.

Evnen, who has advocated for a voter photo ID law, defended his office's work on the bill. Nebraska already verifies citizenship of voters when they register to vote, and Slama's bill requiring further citizenship checks would violate federal law, he said.

“Senator Slama’s bill appears to have the effect of suppressing the votes of rural voters,” Evnen said in a written statement. “I have repeatedly said that I would not support a bill that suppresses voting. Senator Slama's bill also appears to violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. Again, such provisions help no one."

The committee’s chair, Sen. Tom Brewer, of Gordon, said at the beginning of the legislative session that the committee would likely take parts from the various bills and craft its own bill to advance to the full Legislature. He said Wednesday that the committee moved ahead with a more moderate voter ID proposal with only 10 days left in this year's session and after weeks of being unable to reach a compromise with those who wanted to make more stringent requirements.

Voter ID measures have been approved in a number of Republican-controlled states nationwide. 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 identification 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.

Nebraska has no history of widespread voter fraud, but supporters of the voter ID requirement say it’s needed to prevent possible future problems.