The ongoing controversy about voter registration in Georgia and in North Dakota, both of which have made national news in the last week, provides the clearest possible example of why the upcoming election for Secretary of State matters to citizens here in Nebraska and why they should vote for Spencer Danner.
For many years now, Secretary of State John Gale has been a steady hand on the tiller, ensuring that people can register to vote, go to the polls to cast their ballots with a minimum of difficulty, and—now—even vote early, in person or by mail.
This November, Nebraskans can vote for a man who will continue with a steady hand, or for someone who will politicize the office of the Secretary of State, as has happened in neighboring Kansas under Kris Kobach. The steady hand belongs to Spencer Danner. His opponent, Bob Evnen, was hand-picked by the Governor as a “Thank You” for being the face of Ricketts’s self-funded campaign to undo the work of the legislature so he could preside over an execution.
Bob Evnen takes the Donald Trump and Kris Kobach position that we must disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters due to the conservative bogeyman of illegal voting, something that has never been demonstrated despite many years and considerable time and effort. On his campaign website, Evnen notes that there is no problem with illegal voting in Nebraska but that he is dedicated to ensuring that this problem, which doesn’t exist, won’t happen on his watch. In his own words, “The time to address this problem is before it occurs. As Secretary of State, I will work to assure that our elections remain fair and secure.” How will he make sure a problem we don’t have—and that, in fact, studies show no one has—will remain a problem we don’t have? By throwing up barriers to voting, of course!
Again, let’s quote Evnen: “I support Voter ID measures that do not impose an undue burden on voters. I oppose so-called “automatic” voter registration.” And why does Evnen oppose automatic registration? Because he believes that voting is a privilege, not a right. And he’s not shy about saying so: “Requiring the small amount of effort that it takes to register to vote means that the citizen who registers cares enough to participate. We can make it as easy as to register as it is to buy a lottery ticket, but that won’t increase meaningful participation in voting.” In other words, Evnen thinks the burden of exercising one’s constitutional right ought to fall on the citizen; no one should be automatically registered to vote because it doesn’t show they care enough about the privilege they’ve been given.
But voting is a right, not a privilege. And the people who consider it to be a privilege are the ones who are dedicating to make it exceedingly difficult for (certain) people to vote because they actively believe that lots and lots of people don’t *deserve* to vote.
A look at Danner’s campaign website side-by-side with Evnen’s makes clear that Danner is the only candidate who actually takes seriously the job of Secretary of State and who isn’t viewing this election as the necessary step one has to take to qualify for the patronage owed by Governor Ricketts. While a great deal of Evnen’s platform is filled with signals to the right-wing base about issues that have nothing to do with the work of the Secretary of State—like fetal rights, the death penalty, and gun rights—Danner’s platform is all about the economic and civic responsibilities of the office he seeks.
Danner specifically mentions youth engagement and civic education; simplifying the process of starting and doing business in Nebraska; promoting commerce, educational, and cultural exchanges between Nebraska and the world; and prioritizing public safety while committing to restorative justice initiatives. Evnen says only that he will work with Pete Ricketts to enhance the export of Nebraska products and that he will promote Nebraska exports.
And when it comes to voting, the difference is stark. Read directly from Spencer Danner what he has in mind:
- “I support automatic voter registration.
- I will expand secure signature verification and paper ballot tracking.
- I will allow 16 and 17 year old pre-voter registrations.
- I will partner with county election officials to ensure seamless election day preparation.
- I will extend voter registration periods.
- I will improve the voting process for individuals with disabilities.
- I will adopt an innovative electronic registration process of verifying voter eligibility from databases across the country.
- I support reducing the waiting time for individuals with criminal backgrounds to vote.
- I will secure Nebraska’s voter data and the data manipulation from both foreign and domestic interference.
- I will partner with County Election officers and the Nebraska Legislature to streamline voter authentication of voter rolls.
- I will safeguard clean and accurate voter rolls.
- I will test and validate machine accuracy and election security before and after election day.
- I will replace antiquated voting machines and systems with up-to-date technology and processes.
- I will protect and deter acts of fraud:
Penalize those who commit egregious acts of voter fraud”
Why does this matter? Let’s look to at another state to see what happens when a less steady hand—or, in some clear cases, someone who is simply hostile to voters—has made registering to vote and casting a ballot incredibly complicated.
In Georgia, Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp has been actively working to suppress the vote since 2012. In six years, Kemp’s office has canceled nearly 1.5 million voter registrations. While federal law requires updating the voter rolls to remove people who have moved or died, aggressive purges like the one presided over by Kemp might very well have resulted in the removal of eligible voters. A Brennan Center for Justice study found that states with a history of racial discrimination, like Georgia, which were freed from federal oversight under a 2013 Supreme Court voting rights decision, have had significantly higher purge rates.
Meanwhile, Kemp is now in a very close gubernatorial race against Stacey Abrams, who hopes to become the state’s first black female executive. He is problematically overseeing his own governor’s race. And it’s in that context that we should look at reports that processing of more than 50,000 voters registrations have been suspended by Kemp’s office, and that 70% of those are from African-Americans. The registrations were flagged under a Georgia law that requires an exact match between the registration form and the person’s government documents. Things like a missing hyphen or a difference between a married and a maiden name causes a registration to be suspended. The “exact match” system was used by Kemp’s office from 2013–2016 (during which time nearly 35,000 applications were rejected, with minorities disproportionately affected, according to a lawsuit settled last year). As a result of the 2017 settlement, the practice was seemingly ended but the Republican controlled legislature then embedded it in new legislation.
There is only one serious candidate for Secretary of State, only one candidate who has actually thought about what the job entails and how to do it, only one candidate who believes that every eligible Nebraskan has the right to vote and ought to be encouraged to exercise that extremely important right. From an objective point of view, putting partisan politics aside, it’s very obvious that Spencer Danner should get your vote on November 6th; that’s the only way to guarantee that you can vote in the next election too. As we near the election, Danner should also get your financial support, which you can provide through Act Blue here.