Miller causes stir with voter ID proposal

UPDATED WITH GOV. BRIAN SANDOVAL REAX BELOW

WEDNESDAY MORNING UPDATE -- THE SPEAKER...SPEAKS, ALSO BELOW

It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely sponsor of a voter ID bill than Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller.

During the last two cycles, Miller has fought back against assaults on the integrity of the electoral process. In 2008, Miller debunked various allegations and prosecuted ACORN, linked to his own party. In 2012, he pushed back against wispy GOP allegations of potential fraud and jousted with a “newspaper” crusader who found an isolated case and extrapolated.

But today, Miller told capital reporters, he thinks Nevada needs a voter ID bill, setting off a Twitterstorm among local and national progressives who hear “suppression” when “ID” is mentioned. “Ugh,” one of the accounts for the world’s biggest liberal site, DailyKos, Tweeted.

There are many who see voter ID as a cover for Republicans and others to intimidate and/or disenfranchise minority or poor (read: Democratic core) voters. So you can imagine the sense of betrayal some in the base are feeling today as they learn of Miller’s proposal, seeing it as at least a nose under the tent and at worst a capitulation to the enemy for purely political reasons.

Miller portrayed the move as “upgrading an antiquated and aging paper roster system by implementing electronic rosters with the enhanced feature of a photograph of each registered voter, preventing ineligible voters from impersonating other, eligible voters at the polling place,” according to a release from his office. And more: “The law, which is currently in the drafting process in preparation for the 2013 Nevada Legislature, will seek to import existing photographs of eligible voters from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) database of drivers' licenses and state identification cards, into an ‘electronic poll book’ as an adjunct to the existing poll books that currently use signatures for identifying voters. When photographs of the eligible voters are not available through the database, poll workers will be available to take photos at the polling place at the time of voting and verify their identity by way of an affidavit."

Miller was quoted in the release as saying, "This provides a significant safeguard in our election process while simultaneously ensuring that we don't disenfranchise any voters. It's really just an enhancement of the existing system, by providing an electronic poll book that could include a photo to go with the already recorded signature."

It’s quite easy to be cynical about the politics of this. Not only does Miller head off more onerous proposals sure to come from Republicans, but in advance of an inevitable bid for attorney general, he looks tough and moderate at the same time. Take that state Sens. Greg Brower and Mark Hutchison, and any other GOP comers.

Miller acknowledged in an email exchange that he is using the issue as a way to justify transforming what is an ancient paper system to an electronic one. And his method is less likely to disenfranchise voters – this is not about an ID card per se -- than a more onerous one from Republicans.

I do think some will see this as a reasonable safeguard, while those who actually want suppression will say it does not go nearly far enough. But many will wonder at what seems like an about-face to address an issue ginned up by Republicans for partisan purposes.

I’m not sure this gets Miller a serious challenge from the left. And he’s also not John Lee, the state senator primaried and ousted by progressives in a state Senate primary for being a Republican in Democratic clothing. But he will have some 'splainin' to do to the left wing, as he already did on Twitter this afternoon.

Miller pointed out that the idea already has been raised in Minnesota as a middle-ground proposal. But I wonder how the Democratic leaders of the Legislature will react. I have reached out to state Senate Majority Leader-to-be Mo Denis and Speaker-to-be Marilyn Kirkpatrick for their thoughts – I’ll update if and when I receive. I’ve also asked the governor’s office how he stands on voter ID and will report back. (Miller is coming on “Ralston Reports” this week to discuss the proposal.)

UPDATE: I received a statement from Gov. Brian Sandoval: “I support a voter ID law in Nevada. I have not reviewed Secretary Miller’s plan, but I think the idea of a voter ID law is a good one and Nevada should make it as simple as possible for voters to show ID and vote.”

UPDATE NO. 2 -- Speaker-to-be Marilyn Kirkpatrick tells me she is not exactly excited by Miller's idea: "We don’t have that kind of money to solve a problem that doesn’t exist."

Maybe this is an exceedingly clever way to revamp an old system with modern technology while also smoothing the way to one steppingstone closer to the governor’s mansion. But Miller may be surprised at the bonfire he has ignited, with the Twitter flaming just the beginning of this political conflagration.