Judge clarifies effect of photo-ID initiative
CARSON CITY — A state judge Wednesday rewrote a description that details the effect of a voter photo-identification initiative backed by conservative activist Sharron Angle.
After two separate hearings on challenges to the initiative’s wording, Carson City District Court Judge James Russell came up with his own language describing what the proposed constitutional amendment would do.
Russell added words clarifying acceptable forms of identity to include state of Nevada or federal government documents, as opposed to “certain government-issued documents” included in the original petition that critics said was vague.
The judge also tweaked language pertaining to “free” cards that would be issued to people without photo identification and added that the provision carries “a financial cost to the state.”
All sides seemed pleased with the outcome.
“We don’t think they are really significant changes,” Angle said afterward. Her group will refile the Voter ID Initiative adopting the judge’s language.
Angle added she’s confident supporters will be able to gather the roughly 101,000 signatures needed by June 17 to qualify for the November ballot.
Critics of a proposal included two voters represented by lawyers tied to the Democratic Party and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.
They argued the measure failed to inform voters of possible costs and didn’t specify the types of identification that would be necessary.
Wednesday’s challenges focused on the initiative’s “description of effect” — a required synopsis limited to 200 words that explains what a proposal would do. Other possible challenges on the constitutionality of requiring photo ID to vote would come later.
Marc Elias, a Washington, D.C., attorney, told Russell that the original description of the proposed constitutional amendment was “extremely misleading” and falls short of legal mandates.
Allen Lichtenstein with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada agreed.
“The description of effect needs to let people of average intelligence know what they are going to be signing,” he said.
State fiscal analysts have said they can’t determine what the cost would be to provide free voter ID cards. Other estimates mentioned ranged from $500,000 to several million dollars.
The measure supported by Angle’s political action committee, Our Vote Nevada, would require voters to have photo identification to cast a ballot. It also would require the Legislature to direct government agencies to issue free cards to anyone who does not have valid, government-issued photo identification.
After losing Nevada’s 2010 U.S. Senate race to Harry Reid, Angle said she was working on a documentary film to expose nationwide voter fraud. State election officials have said there is no evidence to support the allegations.
Angle’s attorney Joel Hansen said the initiative wouldn’t prevent anyone from voting or registering.
“When you register to vote, you don’t need a photo ID,” Hansen told the judge. He added that anyone who opposed showing a photo at the polls could still vote by absentee ballot.
If the initiative qualifies for the ballot and passes in November, it would need voter approval again in 2016 to become law.
The push in Nevada comes as judges in other states, most recently Arkansas and Wisconsin, have struck down voter photo-identification requirements, though appeals are likely.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 34 states have passed laws requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls.