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Promising a “basket of options” for lawmakers to consider, Sen. John Murante on Wednesday introduced a trio of bills he said ensure future integrity in Nebraska’s elections without suppressing votes.

As he promised in December, Murante once again introduced a voter ID bill (LB1066) that would require voters to present a current form of identification before they could vote.

According to the bill, appropriate forms of ID include driver’s licenses, state, college or university-issued ID cards, passports or military IDs — which 97 percent of Nebraskans already carry, Murante said.

Voters could apply to the Secretary of State’s office for a free photo ID that would comply with the state law, which would come at some cost to the state’s general fund, Murante said, particularly during a budget squeeze.

Civic Nebraska, a civil rights group focusing on voting rights protections in the state, said in addition to costing the state millions of taxpayer dollars over time, LB1066 might be unconstitutional, because it would still impose some cost on voters to cast a ballot.

“Nebraska’s constitution makes it really tough to pass any type of voter identification laws, which basically make elections not free,” said John Cartier, Civic Nebraska’s director of voting rights.

Furthermore, Cartier said there was no evidence of voter impersonation fraud in Nebraska, and LB1066 would empower election commissioners with more power to decide who can vote based on how closely a person resembles their photo ID.

Another Murante bill, LB1065, would have Nebraska join a growing list of states requiring electronic poll books that combine a list of registered voters with a sign-in for voting precincts complete with a photo image and digital signature of the individual voter.

But the bill also changes how provisional ballots could be counted in Nebraska, requiring those individuals to appear “before the election commission or county clerk within seven days after election day” to have their identity confirmed if a poll worker indicated they did not resemble their identification photo within the electronic poll book.

Failure to do so would mean the provisional ballot would not be counted. Civic Nebraska said that could make it harder for ballots collected during voter drives to be included in the election.

Murante also introduced a measure (LB1064) requiring county election commissions to use the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements database to determine if an individual registering to vote is eligible.

It would also require the Secretary of State to check the citizenship status of each registered voter in Nebraska against the SAVE database. Voters found ineligible would be removed from the voter rolls and that information would be turned over to the attorney general.

Since 1987, SAVE has been administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, a part of the Department of Homeland Security, to review immigration status of individuals seeking benefits such as Medicaid and not to verify voter eligibility.

Opponents to similar initiatives introduced in other states have pointed to a 2012 letter from the U.S. Department of Justice that said the program does “not include a comprehensive and definitive listing of U.S. citizens, and does not include, for example, those born in the United States.”

Citizens who recently participated in naturalization ceremonies may not be included in the SAVE database, for example, or the children of U.S. citizens born abroad who have obtained a certificate declaring their citizenship.

Murante said the program, which has been adopted in other states, would “ensure to all Nebraskans that everyone on the voter rolls is legally entitled to vote,” while also ensuring future voters are eligible based on information contained in the SAVE database.

Election commissioners were asked last fall if they checked voter eligibility or whether they even had the tools to conduct verification. 

“The answer was ‘no,’” Murante said. “Today, we are providing them with those tools. It is extremely important that we have some reasonable protection in place to make sure the people on our voter rolls are legally entitled to vote.

“This is a first step in that direction,” he added.

But other civil rights organizations in Nebraska said despite some tweaks from previous bills, Murante's proposals still amount to voter suppression.

Rebecca Gonzales, immigrants and communities program coordinator for Nebraska Appleseed, said the bills address issues that have "never been shown to be a problem in Nebraska.

"All they will do is make it more difficult, expensive and time-consuming for Nebraskans to participate in elections that affect their day-to-day lives," Gonzales said in a statement.

Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska, said while it's important to ensure Nebraska's elections are safe and secure for all people, "voter ID laws do nothing to prevent fraud."

She called on the Legislature "to focus on real solutions to increase confidence in Nebraska's election system and to reject failed ideas that weaken our democracy."

Murante said he believes his introduced legislation will provide Nebraskans an assurance their elections are not tainted by voter fraud.

"We can't say with any authority that it's not a significant problem until we check," he said. "When we pass that bill, I think we'll take a very important step toward knowing for sure."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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