Five things we learned at the voter ID hearing

CARSON CITY — You can learn a lot by watching lawmakers debate bills in Carson City. Mostly, what you learn is that watching lawmakers debate bills in Carson City is not a good way to spend your time.

But wait, there’s more. A hearing before the Assembly’s Legislative Operations and Elections Committee this afternoon turned into a festival of crazy, with plenty of lessons to be learned. The debate was over Assembly Bill 253 and Assembly Bill 266, two very similar laws that call for requiring a state-issued or state-approved ID card before casting a vote.

What did we learn today? Here’s a quick list:

• If something occurs outside your personal experience, it didn’t happen. Several of the panel’s Republican members said they simply could not believe that — in this day and age — any person in the state doesn’t already have an ID of some kind. You need them to get on an airplane, to use a credit card, to drive a car and even go to the doctor!

Sure, some of the members of the committee tried to suggest that some people (those who don’t use airplanes, credit cards or automobiles) might not have a driver’s license or an ID card. Minorities, seniors and the homeless all might fall in to one of these categories. But that didn’t stop member after Republican member from saying they personally don’t know anybody without an ID, and couldn’t understand why the bill would be a problem.

“I just don’t see why it’s a hardship,” said Assemblywoman Jill Dickman, R-Sparks, sponsor of AB 266.

So, clearly, those people and those problems must not exist, in much the same way that — because I’ve never been to Paris — I don’t believe the Eiffel Tower exists. Sure, people who have been there tell me it’s nice. Sure, I’ve seen pictures. But have I actually seen it with my own eyes? Color me a Tower Skeptic!

• The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Although some of the Democrats on the panel tried to elicit specific examples of voter fraud that could be stopped with an ID check, there was little evidence to be presented. And by little, I mean “none.”

Sure, somebody brought up the case of Roxanne Rubin, the Las Vegas woman who tried in 2012 to vote twice in order to prove the system was flawed. The trouble is, she was immediately caught, arrested and charged with a crime. She ultimately pled guilty to a lesser offense.

And yes, some people brought up ACORN, the community organizing group that improperly paid bounties for voter registration signatures in 2008, prompting some workers to fill out and submit fraudulent registration forms. The group was raided by the state and ultimately charged with filing thousands of fraudulent voter-registration forms.

Nobody even mentioned the case of Hortencia Segura-Munoz, an illegal immigrant who actually did vote in the 2008 and 2010 elections using a fake name. She served jail time for her offense, after, once again, getting caught by Nevada authorities.

Now, to many, this would appear to be proof that voter fraud is very difficult to pull off, and that Nevada authorities are on the job looking out for fraud. As lobbyist Kyle Davis put it, “We want the most secure electoral system in the nation. Luckily, that’s what we have.”

But no! Not only did committee members say they’re still concerned about fraud, but so did witnesses. Former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, who has made a cottage industry out of implying her 2010 loss to Harry Reid in the U.S. Senate race was due to fraud, testified that between 3 percent and 9 percent of votes cast nationally were fraudulent, and that Nevada’s numbers were higher!

Evidence? Proof? Examples? Assemblyman Elliot Anderson wanted to know, risibly referring to Angle as an “expert” in the area.

“I do not have any examples that I know of,” Angle replied.

The same thing happened when Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, D-North Las Vegas, asked Dickman for evidence. “Don’t you want to head off the fraud? I do,” Dickman replied, by way of non-answer. But despite the lack of readily available evidence, proponents of the bill stubbornly stuck to their belief that fraud is occurring. Assemblyman John Moore assumed facts not in evidence even more, asking a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada if she was “OK” with people who are not U.S. citizens selecting elected representatives.

• Racism is over because we’ve got a black president. Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, apparently didn’t like the fact that some committee members and witnesses claimed that minorities would be disproportionately harmed by a voter ID law. “We’re in 2015 and we have a black president, in case anyone didn’t notice,” she said. And there were apparently audible gasps in one of the hearing rooms after Fiore referred to colleague Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas, who is black, as the first “colored man to graduate from his college.”

Ouch, baby.

That comment blew up on Twitter, but Fiore was undeterred. After Lonnie Feemster, the Nevada director of the NAACP National Voter Fund testified against the bill, Fiore tried to argue.

“At what point do we stop dividing by design? And at what point do we stop using the race card?” she said.

“We will stop when discrimination stops,” Feemster replied.

Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, D-North Las Vegas, stepped in to object to Fiore’s claim. “There is a disproportionate impact on communities of color,” he said. “No one is pulling a race card, it’s just facts that were stated for the record.”

• This is starting to get creepy, and free IDs aren’t really free. Several of the members, including Fiore, pledged that they would personally pick up voters who need to get a voter ID and drive them to the DMV. (Please, please tell me none of them owns a windowless van…)

But what about gathering the documents needed to establish identity in the first place? If you’re poor, or don’t have a computer, or a credit card, getting a birth certificate, say, from your home state isn’t easy. And those kind of barriers make it less likely that somebody who doesn’t have an ID card now would get one and, under these bills, lose the right to vote.

• Hey, whatever happened to that one idea? If we’re to accept the premise that the state should spend money to assuage the fears of some that widespread voter fraud is taking place, there is a way to do it without harming anybody’s fundamental right to vote. Former Secretary of State Ross Miller proposed to the 2013 Legislature a plan to use DMV photos in electronic poll books, allowing election workers to compare your driver’s license or ID photo when you show up to vote.

If you don’t have an ID, poll workers would photograph you on the spot at the polls, and place that photo in the voter file. But best of all, you could still cast a full ballot; nobody would be disenfranchised under the Miller approach. But majority Democrats rejected that idea, saying it was too costly and that there wasn’t a problem with widespread voter fraud.

Maybe it’s time to dust that idea off?