Voter ID, mail-in ballots both reasonable ideas

Friday, February 6, 2015

While Nebraska legislators are debating a bill to make voting more difficult, they are also considering one to make it easier.

The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs committee voted 7-1 on Wednesday to advance Sen. Tyson Larson of O'Neill's bill that would require voters to show a driver's license, state ID card or other government-issued photo identification.

Tribal ID or county-issued verification would also be acceptable under an amendment backed by the committee, and voters who cast ballots early or by mail would not be required to provide ID unless they're voting for the first time.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Gale spoke in favor of a bill that would expand the use of mail-only ballots to all counties in certain rural precincts if the state approves. Now, counties can only seek the state's permission if they have fewer than 10,000 residents.

The bill will help precincts that can't comly with the Americans with Disabilities Act or don't have many voters. It makes a difference in places like Cherry County, where 17 of 20 precincts are required to cast ballots by mail, and turnout has grown from about 55 percent before the switch to nearly 75 percent now. Ballots are sent to all registered voters in the mail-only pricincts outside of Valentine, even if voters don't request them.

The bill would also let counties use mail-in ballots for special elections such as recalls or runoff. Current law allows special elections by mail only on financial issues such as bond referendums.

Some of the same arguments used in favor of voter ID also apply to mail-in ballots -- how are signatures verified? Are they all varified or just spot-checked? How about citizens who cannot write?

Does the U.S. Postal Service have any special procedures or liaison with the county clerk's office to actively monitor for fraudulent ballots?

How do secret ballots remain secret, and how can we be sure family member aren't forging votes or pressuring voters to vote a certain way?

But mail-in ballots have arguments in their favor as well: saving money, they can be completed in the privacy of voters' homes, with little time pressure, they are move convenient, the process is easier to understand and doesn't require traveling to unfamiliar polling places and learning how to use an unfamiliar voting machines.

We have to admit being torn; political party positions aside, it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect the same amount of proof that might be required to check out a library book or write a check.

However, mail-in ballots are attractive for their convenience and cost-savings.

We propose both voter ID and expanded mail-in ballots, with assurances in place that the mail-ins correctly represent the choices of the voters involved.

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