Unlike their counterparts in most Republican-leaning states across the country, legislators in Nebraska have resisted placing new restrictions on access to voting.
But in November, voters will consider a significant one. Right-wing activists echoing former President Donald Trump’s false allegations of fraud in the 2020 election collected enough signatures to put new photo ID requirements on the ballot in a statewide referendum.
Civic Nebraska estimates that more than 54,000 voters in the state lack the kind of ID that might be required.
According to the Nebraska Examiner, Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, who supports the referendum, has said the state will help voters obtain them if it passes.
Supporters of voter ID requirements cite concerns about voter fraud, but Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen sent legislators a PowerPoint presentation earlier this year denying that there is any evidence of fraud in Nebraska. He pushed back hard on conspiracy theories and false allegations that have been promoted by some of Trump’s most ardent backers.
Currently, Nebraska does not require voter ID at the polls unless voters registered by mail and failed to send proof of residency, such as a utility statement.
Voting rights advocates argue that requiring photo ID will put up a barrier to voting that will disproportionately affect Black, Latino and rural voters.
Early and absentee voting
Nebraska allows early voting at municipal offices starting 30 days before an election. Absentee ballots and voting by mail are also available to any registered voter, with no special excuse needed.
It does not allow voter registration on Election Day. This year, the deadline is Oct. 28. That can pose issues for people who live in rural communities and must travel a long distance to their polling place or town office.
Where you live in Nebraska determines whether you face some other significant disparities in access to early and absentee voting.
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This project looks at the state of voting access, voting rights and inequities in political representation in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
There are no statewide standards for how many hours local election offices must be open for early voting, and resources and policies differ among communities. The same goes for secure drop boxes where absentee ballots can be submitted after hours. At least one drop box must be available 24 hours a day and starting at least 10 days before the election in each county, but some counties offer them in more locations than others.
There are also no consistent standards in Nebraska for “ballot curing” — what happens when a mistake such as a missing signature leads to an absentee ballot being rejected.
Rural weight for ballot initiatives
A federal appeals court recently rejected a challenge to Nebraska’s requirement that signatures from at least 5% of voters in at least 40% of the state’s 93 counties be collected for a statewide referendum initiative to make the ballot.
Backers of an effort to legalize marijuana for medical treatment argued that the system discriminates against more diverse populations of urban areas in Nebraska in favor of rural counties.
More people live in Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy counties — home to Omaha, Lincoln and Bellevue, respectively — than the state’s other 90 counties combined. Twenty Nebraska counties have populations of less than 2,000 people each.
Ten percent of Nebraska’s Black adult population is prohibited from voting because of the state’s felony disenfranchisement law.
Black voters represent 27% of the more than 22,000 people disenfranchised by the policy, despite being only 5% of the state’s population.
Nebraska strips people of their right to vote if they are convicted of a felony, and it isn’t restored until two years after completing their sentence, including probation and/or parole.
The process for restoring those rights can be confusing, and the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has found that local election officials are inconsistent in communicating accurate information about it.
In 2017, Ricketts vetoed legislation that would have eliminated the two-year waiting period.
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