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Stark differences on voter ID split secretary of state candidates

October 7, 2018

After 18 years in office, John Gale said he will not pursue another term as Nebraska’s secretary of state, elevating the campaign to fill the vacancy of the statewide position.

Bob Evnen, a Republican from Lincoln, and Spencer Danner, a Democrat from Omaha, hope to replace Gale as the state’s chief election officer, ambassador and record-keeper.

While the two share a vision of making the secretary of state more visible to foreign dignitaries and businesses in order to grow Nebraska’s economy, and both say they want to maintain the transparency and efficiency of the office, a sharp contrast emerges when they discuss running the state’s elections.

Evnen, 65, supports requiring voters to show identification before they cast a ballot, a Republican-backed proposal that has been introduced and defeated in several recent legislative sessions.

“I think it’s just common sense to implement voter ID, and you can do it in a way that doesn’t disenfranchise anyone,” said Evnen, an attorney who served eight years on the State Board of Education, where he helped establish more-rigorous state standards and a social studies statement of purpose to educate youth to “have an intellectual understanding of the genius of our country’s founding principles.”

Two-thirds of states have some form of voter ID, he said, and polling done within the last few years has shown wide support for the measure as high as 88 percent, including more than 75 percent among minorities.

“We can have voter ID without voter suppression,” Evnen added. “There are alternatives that can address those situations.”

Enacting voter ID would increase the confidence that Nebraska’s elections are fair and secure, he added, which would improve the confidence in elected officials.

Danner, 40, opposes any proposal he said would push potential voters away, and said he favored efforts to maximize voter participation through automatic voter registration, mail-in voting and expanded early voting.

“Voter ID essentially turns election officials into TSA agents,” said Danner, a project manager at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha. He previously worked in several positions for Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, including leading the city’s Human Rights and Relations Department.

The political newcomer and Air Force veteran said he hears from disabled veterans like himself — he was injured in a training accident — and others with physical disabilities that Nebraska needs improved access to the polls.

And as the grandson and son of African-American leaders in north Omaha, Danner said he’s familiar with the concerns a voter ID law raises.

He would rather automatically register all eligible voters, replicate Iowa’s same-day voter registration process here, and expand both early voting and mail-in voting in order to “maximize voter participation” in Nebraska.

While the issue of voter ID split the two candidates, Evnen and Danner said they believe Nebraska’s next secretary of state will be responsible for overhauling the state’s election technology.

That includes replacing voter registration software and vote counting machines, Evnen said, which should create an added sense of security for Nebraska voters.

“Our elections have never been hacked, and I think it’s important to keep them that way,” he said. “Introducing new security features will help us.”

Danner suggested Nebraska invest in technology to make voter registration simpler, such as allowing eligible voters to register from their phone, while also beefing up systems to keep the voter rolls clean.

Both candidates also said they would work on behalf of Nebraskans to grow the state’s economy, serving as a point person for foreign dignitaries and business people as Nebraska’s chief ambassador.

“I believe the secretary of state needs to be the most-visible person in the state,” Danner said, “working with local election officials to educate voters on the issues, while also promoting Nebraska nationally and internationally.”

He added that the secretary of state should facilitate building relationships, both for farmers and small businesses already in the state, as well as new businesses locating here.

Evnen, who said he has four decades of experience in negotiations and reaching common ground as an attorney, said the secretary of state should be a “force multiplier” when it comes to broadening Nebraska’s connections to foreign markets.

“Over and over when I’ve spoken to Nebraska export businesses, they’ve told me it helps a lot to have the support of officials,” Evnen said. “I will partner with them, the governor and others. This is a way the secretary of state can contribute to the state economy in a meaningful way.”

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