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Nevada Legislature: Panel hears 2 bills requiring identification to vote

Riley Snyder
Associated Press

A Nevada Republican-backed measure to require identification to vote met heated opposition during a hearing on Tuesday.

The Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee held hearings on AB253 and AB256, both of which require voters to show a government-issued identification card, such as a driver’s license, or an identification card specifically created for the purpose of voting.

“In our world today, it’s very common to take out that photo ID, no matter what you do,” said Republican Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, who said most of the people he knew already have identification and would feel more secure by requiring it to vote. “I think it’s a matter of comfort.”

Democrats, including Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, spoke out against the proposal and said the bills would severely limit constitutional rights for the elderly and the poor. “What we’re talking about here is putting a major obstacle in front of a fundamental right,” Anderson said during the hearing.

The bills would require the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles to create and distribute free voter cards to people without another form of identification. Voters would need to produce a birth certificate or other form of identification in order to obtain a card.

The bills would allow people voting without a form of identification to cast an absentee ballot in federal elections that would be counted if the voter registers with the local registrar by the following Friday.

Sixteen states have implemented laws requiring some sort of photo identification in order to vote. Republican bill sponsor Assemblywoman Jill Dickman said the bill was modeled after an Indiana law that was ruled constitutional in a Supreme Court case.

Despite multiple questions from Democrats on the committee, including Anderson, the bill’s sponsors were only able to provide anecdotal evidence proving an issue with voter impersonation. Dickman said the proposal would head off potential voter fraud in the future.

The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles estimated the cost of setting up the identification-card system would be around $300,000 at the start and around $6,000 every two years to pay for the cards. Though the DMV didn’t provide an estimate of how many people would need an identification card, the department projected that about 5 percent of registered voters don’t have a form of identification.

Former Republican assemblywoman and Senate candidate Sharron Angle testified in favor of the bill, saying it was more of a priority to avoid voter impersonation than to mildly inconvenience voters who don’t have an identity card.

“I don’t think there’s a barrier here at all in this bill,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press. “How is that right, that a voter is disenfranchised because someone impersonated him and got there first? To me, that is a more egregious problem than the unknown person who may want to vote and can’t afford it.”

Republican Sen. James Settelmeyer is sponsoring a similar bill, SB169, in the Senate, and fellow Republican Sen. Don Gustavson is proposing a constitutional voter identification amendment.

All three regular bills contain nearly identical language.