New GOP SoS, Majority Means Voter ID Back on the Table in Nevada

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[Image courtesy of history.com]

In state capitals across the nation, the arrival of new Secretaries of State means an opportunity for new focus on election issues. In places like California and Minnesota, new Democrats are coming to office determined to up the ante on issues begun under their predecessors. In some places like Iowa, a Republican is hoping to dial back some of the rancor experienced under his predecessor.

But in some places like Nevada, a change in party plus the election of a legislative majority can mean big changes on contentious issues like voter ID. The Las vegas Review-Journal has more:

The last couple of times Barbara Cegavske backed bills in the Nevada Legislature to require voters to show photo identification to cast ballots, the proposed legislation didn’t make it out of committee.

Democrats blocked voter ID legislation in 2007 and in 2009, when Cegavske supported such bills, and beyond. Even when Republicans ran the state Senate in the past, the idea was rejected because of the potential cost of providing photo IDs to people who might not already have a driver’s license or some other form of identification.

With Cegavske’s 2014 election as Nevada’s secretary of state and with Republicans in the majority in both houses of the Legislature for the first time in decades, Cegavske said she’s optimistic she finally will see a voter ID requirement become law. The Republican mentioned voter ID on the day of her swearing-in, making it a top priority.

“Cegavske is a proponent of showing identification at polling places and will continue efforts to maintain the integrity of Nevada’s elections,” her office said Jan. 5 as she became Nevada’s 17th top election official.

GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval also has expressed support for voter ID, making it likely he would sign a bill into law.

There are already discussions under way in the Legislature – which is important since Cegavske says she won’t author her own bill – but partisan divisions mean there is still a ways to go:

[V]oter ID efforts in the Legislature largely have broken along party lines — the GOP in support and Democrats opposed. During the 2013 session, for example, Democrats rejected at the committee level former Secretary of State Ross Miller’s proposal to start an electronic poll book that would allow clerks to compare voters at the polls to ID photos kept by the DMV or elsewhere. Voters wouldn’t have to show photo IDs, argued Miller, a Democrat, and the burden would be on the government to take photos at polling sites, if necessary. Cost estimates, however, ranged from less than $1 million to as much as $7 million, depending on new equipment.

During testimony on SB315, a voter ID bill Cegavske co-sponsored in 2009, Carson City’s county clerk, Alan Glover, estimated some 95 percent of Nevadans have some form of photo ID. The remaining 5 percent could get them at the DMV for around $20, he said.

At the time, the DMV’s photo ID fee was $16.25 for a new card every four years. Now, the DMV fee for an identification card is $21.25 for people between the ages of 18 and 64 and $7.25 for those 65 and older, with the card good for eight years. The renewal fee is $21.25 for those 18 to 64, and $3.25 for Nevadans 65 and older.

Because it’s unconstitutional to charge voters a “poll tax,” the state or counties would have to pay for IDs for voting. Cegavske said she doubts it would cost much new money as the DMV already provides such cards for free to the homeless or recently released prisoners.

This last part – the process for making IDs available to those who lack them – is now likely to be the focal point of any legal dispute over the law. Before then, however, you can expect Democrats to fight the bill as unnecessary:

Nevada Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, said she experienced voter discrimination herself while growing up in the Deep South, moving frequently as the daughter of a traveling evangelist. She opposes voter ID, saying there’s no legal reason for it and that such legislation would add another barrier to voting.

“There have been times when our national conscience wasn’t geared toward equality,” Spearman said, referring to the civil rights movement to enfranchise minorities, particularly blacks. “It wasn’t even asking for ID. It was a matter of looking at somebody’s skin color and saying, ‘You don’t belong.’ “

Spearman said her mother, for example, never drove and doesn’t have a photo ID driver’s license. She also argued that the integrity of elections in Nevada and most of the nation is good.

“Show me where there was no integrity in the last two elections,” said Spearman, a former military police officer who said there should be evidence of voter fraud or other crimes to act on voter ID. “I don’t see there’s enough evidence.”

Still, given the interest in the issue and Republican control, you should expect voter ID to move very soon. Here’s hoping it gets resolved one way or another sooner than later – this already has the feel of a conflict that could stretch into the weeks immediately preceding Election Day 2016.

Stay tuned.

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