Despite contentious debate, research shows impacts of voter ID laws are minimal on both sides

Nebraskans will have a choice that will impact elections moving forward: whether or not voters will have to show a photo ID at their polling places.
Published: Oct. 13, 2022 at 4:02 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 7, 2022 at 2:50 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - In under a month, Nebraskans will have a choice that will impact elections moving forward: whether or not voters will have to show a photo ID at their polling places before getting their ballot.

“This is a common sense way we can reinforce trust Americans have in our voting system,” Governor Pete Ricketts said.

It’s been a contentious debate between some of Nebraska’s top elected officials and advocates for voting rights.

“This isn’t an initiative that’s needed, it’s not a law that’s needed,” Steve Smith with Civic Nebraska said.

The petition drive for ballot initiative 432, was sponsored by Julie Slama, who declined at interview.

But Ricketts, also a vocal supporter, said requiring an ID is a natural solution to a lack of trust in elections.

“You need a photo ID to buy over the counter Sudafed, to cash a check, to drive a car. these are all every day life things,” Ricketts said. “So why shouldn’t we protect our voting system in the same way.”

Opponents said the initiative wouldn’t protect elections, but harm them.

‘Voting is a fundamental right. And it’s the foundation of all of our rights,” Jane Seu, an attorney for ACLU Nebraska said. “It’s the core principle of our democracy. policies like this, you know, negatively impact the process, it complicates it, it keeps people from accessing the polls when it may already be difficult or confusing.”

Kevin Smith, a UNL professor, said research on the impact of voter ID laws has been done extensively and nearly all of the studies come to the same conclusion.

“A lot of people get upset on both sides of the voter ID issue. But in terms of its actual effect on behavior, and voter participation, it’s actually pretty minimal to nonexistent,” Kevin Smith said.

He also said voter ID laws don’t impact election security either.

“That’s for the simple reason that elections aren’t that insecure,’ Kevin Smith said. “I mean, it’s an attempt to reduce voter fraud. It doesn’t have much of an impact for the simple reason is that there’s just no systematic evidence that I’m aware of that voter fraud is a significant issue.”

Ricketts said he doesn’t disagree that Nebraska elections are secure.

“But you don’t want to try and fix these problems after you have them, you want to try to make sure you don’t have voter fraud before it occurs in your state,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts pointed to research done by the Nebraska Bureau of Economic Research which found voter ID laws in Michigan and Florida during the research period only dropped turnout by less than one percent.

Professor Smith also sent research compiled by the University of California, Davis, which found the impacts of photo ID requirements on turnout are minimal, maybe by a percent or two.

“The main reason for that is the vast majority of people have an ID that meets the requirements of a voter ID law, even if it’s a strict photo ID law,” Kevin Smith said. “I mean, it’s a fairly small number of people that it will affect and I don’t want to underplay or minimize the very real effect that this can have on on some people.”

Civic Nebraska estimates 54,500 Nebraskans don’t have photo ID’s based on the number of licensed drivers in the state and they said they’re more likely to be minority, low income, disenfranchised community members who are worth protecting regardless how many there are.

“A representative democracy means as many people voting and putting their voice forward as possible,” Steve Smith said. “And if we limit that even by just a few percentage points, one, it could change the outcome of any election...also doesn’t do well to say we’re a representative democracy but we only allow a certain number of people to vote. "

When 10/11 inquired about what kinds of ID’s would be required or if this would impact mail-in voting, we’ve been told it will be up to the legislature to decide how the amendment would be implemented, should it pass.

Public hearings on ballot initiatives

There will be public hearings on two ballot initiatives in each of the state’s three Congressional Districts in Lincoln, Omaha and North Platte.

The Minimum Wage Statute, known as Initiative Measure 433, would raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026.

Lincoln’s hearing will be Tuesday, Oct. 18 at the Nebraska State Capitol, Hearing Room 1525 located at 1445 K Street. The Minimum Wage hearing will be from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the Voter ID hearing will be from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Omaha’s hearing will be Tuesday, Oct. 11 at the Thompson Alumni Center in Bootstrapper Hall located at 6705 Dodge Street. The Voter ID hearing will be from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the Minimum Wage hearing will be from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

North Platte’s hearing will be Thursday, Oct. 6 at the Mid-Plains Community College South Campus in the McDonald Belton Theater located at 601 West State Farm Road. The Minimum Wage hearing will be from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and the Voter ID hearing will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.