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Measures in Nebraska Legislature would change electoral vote allocation, require voter ID

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LINCOLN — As the nation struggles over its last election, a Nebraska lawmaker introduced two election measures Thursday guaranteed to generate battles here.

Legislative Bill 76 would return Nebraska to the winner-take-all method of allocating Electoral College votes. Legislative Resolution 3CA is a constitutional amendment that, if passed by voters, would require photo identification for voting.

State Sen. Julie Slama of Peru offered both proposals on the first day of bill introduction in the 2021 session. In a statement, she described them as “common-sense measures” that would improve the state’s election laws.

“LB76 will end the practice of gerrymandering in our state for Electoral College votes and give all Nebraska voters a say in how our five Electoral College votes should be distributed,” she said. “LR3CA will give Nebraskans the opportunity to join 35 other states requiring an identification to vote and provide another layer of security for our elections.”

Both drew sharp criticism from opponents, including the ACLU of Nebraska, the Holland Children’s Movement and the Nebraska Democratic Party.

State ACLU Director Danielle Conrad drew a link between the proposals and “what we witnessed in our nation’s capital: leaders putting politicians over voters and perpetuating false narratives.”

“Now more than ever, it’s incumbent on us all to fiercely protect our free and fair elections in Nebraska,” she said. “We need to expand — not contract — voting rights because every American knows voting is the cornerstone of our democracy and the fundamental right upon which all our civil liberties rest.”

Jane Kleeb, chair of the state Democratic Party, said that Slama is carrying “(Gov. Pete) Ricketts’ partisan bills as payback for the boatloads of money he spent to get her elected” and that most Nebraskans are more concerned about issues like COVID-19, climate change and young people leaving the state.

Nebraska Republicans have pushed both ideas for years. State GOP Chairman Dan Welch said the proposals enjoy “broad support across the state and the Legislature would do well to follow Senator Slama’s lead on them.”

Returning to a winner-take-all system has been a party priority since Nebraska abandoned that method in 1991. The state awards three of its five electoral votes based on the popular vote in each of its three congressional districts. The other two votes go to the statewide winner.

“A winner-take-all system would combine our political strength and put us on an equal playing field with virtually every other state in the union,” Welch said.

But Conrad said the change would discourage voters by “signaling ... that their votes for president and vice president carry less importance.”

The state has split its vote twice, first in 2008, when the Omaha-area’s 2nd District went to Democrat Barack Obama and the other votes went to Republican John McCain, and again last year, when the 2nd District went to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden and the rest went to GOP President Donald Trump.

Nebraska and Maine are the only states that allow their electoral votes to be split.

Voter identification became an issue about 10 years ago and has met with equally stiff opposition. Slama’s proposal mirrors a measure introduced last year by former Sen. Andrew La Grone of Gretna.

It would amend the Nebraska Constitution to require that poll workers “review a photograph or digital image” of each voter to verify that person’s identity before allowing that person to vote.

Welch said the measure responds to voter concerns about election security and “would provide a needed check against fraud at the ballot box, which is a major priority for our country.”

But the Holland Children’s Movement tweeted that requiring voter ID amounts to voter suppression and is a “solution in search of a problem.”

Slama’s proposal does not address mail-in ballots, which became a Trump target during the last election. He and other Republicans claimed that there were rampant opportunities for fraud with mail-in ballots. But Nebraska officials defended the security of the state’s mail-in voting.

Slama’s proposal does not provide specifics about the photographs that could be used for identification, either.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-670-2402

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