Photo By Dennis Myers Sen. Barbara Cegavske’s bill requiring voters to identify themselves would be a sharp break with longstanding Nevada practice.

Legislation making voting more formal in Nevada is drawing fire for putting obstacles in the way of civic involvement, particularly for minorities.

Senate Bill 385 would require voters to present “a driver’s license or identification card issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, an identification card issued by a branch of the Armed Forces of the United States, a United States passport, an identification card issued by an Indian tribe or a voter identification card issued by a county clerk.” The measure is sponsored by Sen. Barbara Cegavske, a Clark County Republican.

Voting in Nevada has long been an informal and laidback matter usually conducted at neighborhood schools, and identification is rarely demanded. Most officials consider getting people to vote at all to be the principal problem associated with voting.

Election officials say there has been no epidemic of voter fraud—indeed, they could not name any instances within their memories. The law already requires that newly registered voters present identification the first time they vote.

Washoe County voter registrar Dan Burk said that during his decade in office, there has never been a prosecution for voter fraud.

“The underlying truth is we don’t have people sneaking in and trying to vote, whether they’re citizens or not citizens,” he said. “And the last thing that a person who is not a bona fide citizen of our country wants to do is possibly get themselves in a felony situation.”

Cegavske said that “concerns with voter fraud” prompted her bill, but she was not able to point to any specific incidents. In an email message, she wrote, “I talked to poll workers who say they have no idea if the person that comes forward is who they say they are. No checks and balances. This last election the workers I have known and seen for the past 18 years at my polling place … said they had over 60 percent turnout [of registered voters], the most they have ever seen. They did not know these people and said they could not ask for their ID to verify. I always show my ID when I vote.”

Burk said the only problem that even comes close to fraud that he has seen during his tenure involves a law that allows political party representatives to serve as deputy voter registrars. In 2004, deputy registrars hired by Nevada Republicans registered a large number of voters—perhaps in the thousands—and threw away many of the Democratic registrations. That problem would not have been remedied by the Cegavske measure.

The usual form of identification used by most people is a driver’s license, but not everyone has one.

“Racial impact can be argued from census data,” contends Neil Bradley of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. “A higher percentage of black households (18.4 percent) in Nevada are without access to vehicles than white households (7.1 percent), from which we argue that they are less likely to have a driver’s license.”

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...