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Herb Friedman, Lincoln, Nebraska

 

The newly elected Nebraska Secretary of State, who is charged with overseeing elections in Nebraska, announced he is exploring the introduction of “voter ID” legislation.

My great grandparents migrated from Eastern Europe and settled in Lincoln in about 1885. Lincoln, which was selected as the capitol of the new state of Nebraska in 1867, with a population at the time of less than 100, was still a small village when my great grandparents arrived.  Many came from Europe – Irish, Italians, Czechs, Scandinavians, Germans from Ukraine, and Jews from Eastern Europe, to name but a few.  Lincoln was a true melting pot. In fact the whole county was and still is a melting pot.

Czarist Poland, was not much different than some of the Central American and Middle East Countries are today, whose citizens want to come to our country. My great grandfather left Poland, at age 33, because living there was just plain hell. Jews were constantly attached by Cossacks; their villages burned, women raped and men killed in every vicious way known to man.  They were denied education, the right to own property, even the right to sell liquor, access to professions, and were not even citizens of their country of birth, despite some having lived there for centuries. And the vote? There were no elections, so no need to worry about voting.

This country was a beacon attracting the poor from all over the world. And once you became a citizen, you could vote. Even if you couldn’t speak English; even if you were poor. They didn’t come for the vote, they didn’t even know what a vote was. But they knew life here couldn’t be any worse than from where they came. They had a chance. The vote was an added benefit. It came with the new territory. Call it a bonus.

The current rage of “Voter ID Laws” is aimed at new immigrants, most of whom came here for the same better life, for which most of our ancestors came, and other minorities. These new IDs are not free. According to a 2014 report from Harvard Law School, the average cost to obtain a voter ID, even if offered for ‘free,’ is between $75 and $175, when you add all the incidentals like travel, time off work and other expenses. And who can’t afford these new detriments to the voting box? People who live hand to mouth, and for whom the cost of an ID may mean the difference between a meal, paying rent, or a tank of gas. The new hindrances hit the poor, not the people behind this appalling idea, which takes the nation back to the “papers” required in Nazi Germany, and other authoritarian countries.

The idea is not conservative, but reactionary; a step back in time to a darker age.

Is this a system that is broke and needs to be fixed? How many people in Nebraska were charged with voter fraud in 2016 that triggered this sudden need? According the Secretary of State’s own office, out of 860,000 votes cast that year, there were two violations reported, each resulting in a $10 fine (these were most likely the result of a mistake); statistically this amounted to 0.00023 % of the vote. Not a problem any way you look at it. Is this a solution in search of a problem? Or more likely, a political party in search of a way to deter voters they think may vote against them, from voting at all.

The core values of this nation were expressed by Emma Lazarus in the words she wrote that appear on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless….” But the current Secretary of State would add the words: “But those poor masses can’t vote, because they can’t afford the cost of a voter ID”, which amounts to a new version of the old “pole tax”. This idea should be scrapped.

Guest editorials represent the opinion of the author and are not representative of the Jewish Press Board of Directors, the Jewish Federation of Omaha Board of Directors or the Omaha Jewish Community as a whole.