Secretary of State Bob Evnen's hand is shown reading prepared notes at a public hearing in the Nebraska State Capitol.
Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen opens a public hearing on Tusday, Oct. 18, 2022, in the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, regarding a ballot initiative that would require photo identification before voting in Nebraska. The hearing, the final of three across the state, allows voters to voice their opinions to Evnen on the measure before voting for or against the issue on Nov. 8. (Photo by Zach Wendling/NNS)

Nebraska does not require people to present a photo ID at a poll booth on Election Day. Ballot Initiative 432, a bill that caused contention for members of Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District, is designed to change that. 

The last of three hearings for this initiative took place Tuesday, Oct. 16, where seven proponents and 11 opponents testified in front of Secretary of State Bob Evnen. 

Appearing on Nebraska’s ballot in the Nov. 8 election, this initiative would require a physical ID, with photo identification, to cast a vote, which proponents call a common-sense move. 

State Sen. Julie Slama cited 35 other states with voter ID legislation, saying voter security is at the forefront of many Nebraskan minds. She said every potential vote matters,

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State Sen. Julie Slama, a representative of Citizens for Voter ID, testifies in support of a ballot initiative to require photo identification to vote in Nebraska elections. Slama serves as the main proponent of the initiative during a public hearing in the Nebraska State Capitol on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, in Lincoln, Neb. (Photo by Zach Wendling/NNS)

referencing a 2006 election where Sen. Steve Lathrop won over current Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert by a margin of 14 votes.

“When a valid ID is required to drive or just hold Epson or spray paint, or even see an R-rated movie,” Slama said. “The overwhelming majority of states have successfully implemented voter ID systems, and we should follow their lead to make our elections as secure as possible.”

Those in contention with the bill argued that implementing voter ID would be a betrayal of a constitutional right and a hindrance from voting for thousands of Nebraskans. 

Heidi Uhing, public policy director for Civic Nebraska, cited Nebraska’s constitution, which says that all elections shall be free,

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Heidi Uhing, the public policy director for Civic Nebraska, testifies against a ballot initiative to require photo identification to vote in Nebraska elections. Uhing serves as the main opponent of the initiative during a public hearing in the Nebraska State Capitol on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, in Lincoln, Neb. (Photo by Zach Wendling/NNS)

and there shall be no hindrance or impediment to the right of a qualified voter to exercise the elective franchise. She said 54,500 qualified voters do not have valid government-issued IDs and could not vote if the initiative passed, according to a Civic Nebraska study.

“The rewrite of our constitution seeks to extinguish these protections while at the same time reducing American and Nebraskans’ ability and opportunity to vote,” Uhing said. “You cannot have free and fair elections if you strip thousands of citizens of what is a fundamental constitutional right.”

Multiple people opposing the bill said requiring identification for a constitutional right was illegal, which community member Jason Carthel contested.

“You have to have a background check just to buy a firearm, and that is specifically enumerated in the constitution,” Jason Carthel said. “If we don’t have to have an ID to vote, then it seems

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Jason Carthel, who is in favor of voter ID, testifies in support of a measure to require photo identification for elections in Nebraska at a public hearing in the Nebraska State Capitol on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2022, in Lincoln. (Photo by Zach Wendling/NNS)

logical that we shouldn’t have to have an ID for any constitutionally enumerated right.”

Supporters of the bill argued that implementing this identification system would be a proactive approach to voter security. Community member Dean Warneke said criminals were always looking for opportunities, whether it was a house burglary or election fraud.

“If the voting process fails, we no longer have government by the people,” Warneke said. 

The opposition, however, argued these measures have no grounds, as Nebraska has no evidence of a history of voter fraud. Lincoln resident Andrew Farias cited Evnen, who said in a recent interview that there was no evidence of illegal voter participation or inaccurate vote counting in Nebraska. 

“There is no evidence that elections in Nebraska are anything other than safe, secure and fair,” Nebraska Civic Engagement Table Member Guadalupe Esquivel said. “Initiative 432 is a solution without any problem that will only result in creating more problems.” 

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Guadalupe Esquivel with Nebraska Civic Engagement Table testifies against a proposed photo ID requirement at a public hearing in the Nebraska State Capitol on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2022, in Lincoln, Neb. (Photo by Zach Wendling/NNS)

Other proponents feared undocumented immigrants taking advantage of the voting system and vulnerable software. Community member Jennifer Hicks criticized Evnen, pointing toward his confidence in voter security as untrustworthy.

Multiple people opposing the bill stated that requiring identification for a constitutional right was illegal, which Jason Carthel contested.

“You have to have a background check just by a firearm, and that is specifically enumerated in the constitution,” resident Jason Carthel said. “If we don’t have to have an ID to vote, then it seems logical that we shouldn’t have to have an ID for any constitutionally enumerated right.”

Opponents said the bill would disproportionately affect seniors, people of color and disabled, young or low-income voters. They argued that putting a barrier on this process could impact those who are less available to travel or wait at a voting booth. 

Farias even described a scenario where he would be unable to vote in an election if the bill would pass. He moved to Nebraska in the last year and still holds a valid Texas ID. Without a passport, license, student ID or other forms of identification, this law could prevent him from legally casting a vote in a Nebraska election. 

For Viola Burns, a trans woman whose ID photo doesn’t match her gender identity, the bill means she may not be able to participate in democracy.

“By using ID as a gatekeeping measure, Julie Slama, the representative whose signature is on a sworn statement for a constitutional amendment, is deliberately adding an extra barrier to my own voting experience,” Burns said.

Another opponent, Kendall Bartling, discussed an interaction he had early that morning when helping register high schoolers to vote. He said even the discussion about voter ID left students visibly apprehensive about voting and described the experience as disheartening. 

On both sides, it was clear that the right to vote was an issue of utmost importance. For proponents, further security measures meant safer elections. For opponents, it meant a hindrance of a civil right. 

“Voting is right, not a privilege,” Lincoln Board of Women Voters President Inonge Kasaji said.