Give Secretary of State Ross Miller credit for moving the dialogue forward, at least.
Miller created a stir Tuesday when he unveiled a voter photo identification plan for Nevada that avoids the problems seen in other states, most notably voter disenfranchisement.
The headline of a Review-Journal electronic news flash - "Miller calls for voter ID law in Nevada" - was sure to arouse concerns, especially in liberal circles. But Miller's plan - based on an idea from Minnesota's progressive Secretary of State Mark Ritchie - is nothing like voter ID requirements that have sparked resentment and lawsuits in many other states.
"This is an alternative to voter ID, and, I think, a much better alternative," Miller said Tuesday.
It would work like this: Photos from the state's DMV database of driver's licenses and state ID cards would be used to form an electronic "poll book," which election workers would use to verify a voter's identity at the polls. If a voter wasn't in the database, he or she would be photographed at the polling place and asked to fill out an affidavit certifying eligibility to vote.
Nobody would be forced to show his or her ID at the polls, as is required in some states. (Bills to require that in Nevada have been introduced but failed in recent sessions of the Legislature.)
And nobody would be forced to get an ID who does not now have one, a key objection to voter-ID laws in other states. If you're an eligible elector, you can still vote, provided you allow yourself to be photographed.
The plan provides a higher level of voter verification than we have now: All you have to do currently is show up, give your name and sign a book, allowing a poll worker to compare your signature to the one on file.
It's less likely a would-be fraudster would agree not only to sign an affidavit but also to be photographed in the process of committing a felony. "If you're interested in preventing that particular kind of fraud, this seems to be one way to do it," Miller said.
It's also less likely that a legitimate voter who doesn't have a state-issued photo ID would be prevented from voting at the polls, which means nobody will be disenfranchised. That's why Miller and many other Democrats oppose voter ID laws. "That alone, I think, is a reason to have significant reservations to put that in place," he said.
The drawbacks? The cost: Minnesota initially estimated a $20 million cost to implement the program in that state, home to 5.3 million people (Nevada has an estimated population of 2.7 million.) The final cost has yet to be determined, Miller said. But it's possibly cheaper than providing free ID cards to all residents who request them, which might be required to implement a standard voter-ID law.
So far, the idea has found favor with Republicans who previously backed voter ID laws.
"I like it," said Assemblyman Ira Hansen, author of a voter-ID bill that went nowhere in the 2011 session. "This would make everybody happy."
Hansen said because the idea had been introduced by a Democrat, it had a much better chance of surviving the Democratically controlled Legislature.
But he said the intention of his bill and Miller's idea is the same: ensuring voter integrity. "We're both trying to get to the same place," he said.
The move is also smart politics for Miller, who has aspirations to run for attorney general and, later, governor. Because it satisfies Republican concerns about voter integrity and avoids problems related to minority voter disenfranchisement, it may succeed where other proposals failed, bogged down in a quagmire of racial and partisan politics.
Give Miller credit, at the very least, for moving the dialogue out of that swamp.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.