[Image of Nevada’s Capitol courtesy of history.com]

It was only a matter of time …

After nearly a month of focus on long lines, voter ID is making a comeback in the headlines. The big news is a new proposal by Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller (D) which is getting national attention. The Review-Journal explains:

Spurred by many Nevadans complaining during this year’s contentious elections that some people were voting illegally, Secretary of State Ross Miller said Tuesday he will sponsor a bill at the Legislature to require voter photo IDs.

Under his proposal, which lawmakers will consider in 2013, the photos on residents’ driver’s licenses would be placed electronically with their voter registration records and in the poll books at election locations. People without any identification, but who are registered, would be required to have their pictures taken by poll workers and sign an affidavit that they are the person they represent the first time they vote.

The proposal has gotten interesting reactions, many of them predictable. Republican legislators seem to like the idea, as evidenced by the comments of Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey: “The fact that the current system does not require any voter identifications rubs a lot of people the wrong way … I think the concept is very worthy of looking into. We need to see the details. The integrity of elections is at the center of believable democracy.”

Miller’s fellow Democrats are less convinced; their legislative leaders came out against the plan earlier this week:

State Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, and Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, last week questioned how state government can afford spending $10 million to $20 million on a voter ID program when the state faces more pressing needs, such as education, health care and other programs.

Denis said there was scant evidence of organized voter fraud in the fall elections, so it makes no sense to implement the Miller plan.

“It’s a problem that doesn’t exist,” he said.

“I could understand if fraud was a widespread problem. But we only had a Republican lady who tried to vote twice and got caught,” Denis said. “The system worked.”

“It’s not a priority,” said Kirkpatrick, who noted she made her opposition known to Miller in a phone call.

Some reactions were less expected and could make consideration of the plan interesting.
Clark County (Las Vegas) election director Larry Lomax endorsed the plan, and Democratic consultant Andres Ramirez indicated his support as well, saying that giving poll workers photographs would protect minority voters from “poll watchers intent on disrupting the process.”

As Miller’s proposal moves forward, you can expect two major lines of argument from the opposition. First, they will argue that the cost of the proposal is prohibitive; while the total bill won’t reach the $15-20 million estimated in Minnesota, it will still require funds that are already scarce. The second argument will be that voter fraud isn’t a problem and thus this proposal is unnecessary.

I’m not sure that the issues of cost and lack of fraud are enough to kill the proposal, however. Indeed, it looks to me like Miller’s goal in making this proposal (and spending the money) is not to prevent fraud but rather to end the voter ID debate in a way that simultaneously improves the state’s election process.

By itself, ending the voter ID debate is a huge boon for states. I can’t even begin to imagine how much time and money was spent legislating, litigating and fighting about voter ID in the last election cycle alone; this bill essentially settles the argument at what might end up being a fraction of the cost. Moreover, the electronic poll books the state is proposing are popular with local election officials like Clark’s Lomax, who are looking to upgrade from the traditional printed poll books, and activists like Ramirez, who are tired of their voters becoming Election Day pawns in the voter ID battle.

Viewed from this angle, Miller’s proposal could be described as an effort to use the momentum on voter ID to enact other desirable changes in Nevada’s election system. Indeed, you could call it a kind of jujitsu, the martial art that “uses an attacker’s energy against him, rather than directly opposing it.”

This probably isn’t surprising when you consider Miller’s brief foray into Mixed Martial Arts earlier this year, but it’s fascinating nonetheless. I’m all for anything that puts the divisive and expensive voter ID behind us; and Miller’s election geek jujitsu might just do the trick.