Fair Elections Legal Network: Nevada rushing to pass misguided voter ID law

Nevada legislators are on the verge of rushing a decision that will disenfranchise thousands of voters. State legislators have proposed voter ID bills – SB 169 and the identical companion bills AB 253 and AB 266 – which are so restrictive they would make their counterparts in other strict voter ID states blush.

As drafted, only a Nevada DMV-issued driver’s license, state ID, or free voter ID, U.S. uniformed services ID card, or U.S. Passport qualifies as voter ID. Because the ID must contain a signature and be issued by the United States or Nevada, no government employee ID cards, no Veteran Health Identification Cards issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, no college student ID cards, no local ID cards such as Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Work Cards, no concealed carry permits, and no U.S. Department of Defense Common Access Cards are accepted at the polls. Tribal ID cards will be excluded unless they have a signature.

The signature requirement is unprecedented for strict voter ID laws. All the other strict voter ID states have accepted that verifying a person’s name and photo is sufficient for checking the voter in. Signature-matching already takes place in Nevada elections and in other states like Montana and Washington it is usually an alternative to presenting voter ID. Additionally, while a free voter ID will be available at DMV offices under the bill, the listed residential address must be current, so voters with only a free voter ID will be forced to update these cards each time they move. This requirement is not imposed on the other accepted voter IDs—passports and uniformed services ID cards do not even bear addresses.

Nevada voters who have to cast a provisional ballot are only allowed to vote in federal races. Under this bill any voter deemed not to reflect their likeness in the ID photo, whose signature is found to be non-matching, or whose address on a free voter ID card is outdated, will be deprived of voting in any state and local elections. Indigent voters can sign an affidavit stating that he or she could not afford to acquire an ID, given the costs of primary documents, and have their provisional ballot counted—but that ballot will be federal only.

West of the Dakotas, Kansas, and Texas, there are zero strict photo voter ID states—Nevada would be the first. The other Western states either do not have any ID requirement, allow non-photo forms of ID (Arizona and Colorado), or have an alternative to the ID requirement such as an affidavit of identity (Idaho), signature-matching, or verifying other information in the voter’s registration record (Alaska and Utah). If SB 169 passes, only Texas will have a more restrictive voter ID law. Last year, Texas’s voter ID law was found to violate the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act for severely burdening the right to vote and intentionally discriminating against black and Latino voters.

Notably, Texas, Tennessee, and South Carolina are the only strict voter ID states in the country that reject student ID cards. This is the company Nevada may soon join in denying the right to vote to the newest members of our democracy, while Alabama, Mississippi, Kansas, Virginia, Georgia, and Indiana allow student ID cards. Finally, this bill would make Nevada the only voter ID state in the country to deny veterans the use of their VA-issued ID cards at the polls. That would be disgraceful. People who put their lives on the line for the United States should not have to jump through hoops to vote in the country they defend.

Beyond the thousands of voters impacted, the state will need millions to finance implementing this ID requirement. From new ID issuance procedures and technology, to lost DMV revenue for free IDs and free ID updates every time voters move, to public education, this endeavor will not be cheap. Given budgetary constraints and the need to improve the state’s education system, Nevada simply cannot afford this. And passing the ID law is an invitation to costly constitutional litigation. Perhaps the state’s money is better spent elsewhere.

With one of the lowest turnout rates in the country in the 2014 midterm elections, Nevada should be looking for ways to make voting more accessible and boost turnout. It was a leader on online voter registration and has to date exhibited extremely professional election administration. Forcing voters to get a license to vote is anti-democratic and unnecessary. Nevadans already have a well-functioning election system. They should join the Let Nevadans Vote Coalition in pushing for real advances in efficiency and integrity and stop trying to fix what isn’t broken.

Jon Sherman is a staff attorney at the Fair Elections Legal Network, a non-partisan organization in Washington, D.C. focused on election administration reform and voting rights issues.


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