Civic Nebraska @ the Statehouse: testimony on voting rights bills

Westin Miller, our director of public policy, testified before the Nebraska Legislature's Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee on a pair of voting rights bills – one that would clean up Nebraska election law, the other that would unnecessarily shorten early voting.

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On Jan. 26, 2022, Westin Miller, Civic Nebraska’s director of public policy, testified to the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee of the Nebraska Legislature about a pair of bills related to Nebraska elections and voting rights. The first, LB843, is the elections omnibus bill. This bill includes several small, important changes to the state’s election code such as protecting dropboxes, updating language to make sense for voters in Mountain Time, and removing a burdensome notary requirement for replacement ballots. The second is LB785, which would unnecessarily reduce the amount of time Nebraska voters get with their early ballots. Here’s what westin told the committee.

Testimony on LB843

Westin Miller

I’m here in support of LB843, the elections omnibus bill, with a few suggestions for improvement. First, let me thank the elections office for their tireless work ensuring that chapter 32 is as clean and useful as possible. I know I don’t need to tell the folks in this room that it really is the small, seemingly boring administrative rules that can sometimes have the biggest impact on voters. So we’re very grateful to the Secretary of State’s office for always pursuing a better election code.

Before I get into our suggestions, I just wanted to highlight our favorite parts of LB843, because I know it does about 30 different things and is not so easy to read.

›› LB843 creates a working definition of political subdivision, the lack of which has made other elections discussions, like redistricting, extra confusing. Allows for the use of signature stamps for people who can’t sign their name

›› Allows voters in all-mail counties who are passionate about election day to participate as election workers in other counties

›› Helps alleviate a really confusing situation that happened in the 2020 elections involving out of state organizations mailing really official looking documents to Nebraska voters (more on that in a moment).

›› Clarifies election deadlines to make sense for our friends in Mountain Standard Time.

›› Responsibly allows for clean voter rolls by relying on action from the voter.

›› Removes a burdensome notary requirement for replacement ballots.

›› Protects dropboxes from electioneering.

I’d be happy to talk about any of these items. I think they will all have a real, positive impact.

With that in mind, I have two suggestions for improvement. And I think these are low-stress changes we can achieve, but they’d make a big difference.

First, I mentioned the unfortunate 2020 situation in which out-of-state organizations were bombarding some Nebraska voters with official-looking mailers. Now, I have no doubt the intent was good. But what actually happened was that they convinced a bunch of people that they weren’t registered, that they hadn’t voted yet, and it was dreadful.

I have an above-average understanding of Nebraska’s election and voting process, but I received five different mailers with official-looking print warning me, sometimes, inaccurately, about registration and voting deadlines. I got so many that I finally got nervous that something had happened to my voter registration, so I had to call the Douglas County Election Commissioner’s office to confirm my registration! Very uncool, very confusing.

Anyway, all that to say, this problem is addressed on page 12, line 14, and again at the top of page 30. Sections 11 and 24. My suggestion is in both of these sections, these new requirements are specific to organizations distributing materials by mail. I think it alleviates some confusion about who is responsible for the form and how it needs to look.

To be frank, I’d love to see this requirement limited to out-of-state organizations, but I’m not sure that’s actually doable. So my suggestion is that we add “by mail” to both of these sections. I know this could still create a little more work for some organizations, but this really is a problem worth fixing.

Our second suggestion for improvement is in Section 25 subsection (3), which begins on page 30, line 27.

To be honest, this is our least favorite part of the bill. We’d really hate to see any county discontinue their early voter list. But we also value consistency, and we will continue to encourage you to let county election officials do their jobs by removing unnecessary bureaucratic barriers to election administration.

Counties should have the ability to begin early voter lists, they should have the ability to conduct their elections entirely by mail in some or all precincts, and that also means they should be able to not do those things. Of course, we’ll encourage every county to maintain an early voter list, but I think it’s inappropriate of the state to say “no, you can’t.”

With that in mind, rather than oppose section 25, we’re proposing a reasonable limit to when a county official can eliminate the use of this list. They just can’t do it in a statewide election year. I think this strikes a good balance of giving county officials the ability to make those decisions, but in a way that makes it impossible to, I’m sure unintentionally, surprise voters by eliminating the use of this list.

So again, you’d get no tears from me if this section were to be taken out, but Civic Nebraska continues to support counties in making good decisions for their counties. I do hope you’ll put on this basic time constraint to make the section better.

Thanks for listening. I hope you’ll support this bill with our basic suggestions.

Testimony on LB785

I’m here in opposition to LB785, for reasons that hopefully won’t surprise anybody.

The first part of this bill, limiting the amount of time voters get with their ballots, is pretty simple. There’s no good reason for it. The trolls on Twitter like to say, “Um, duh, how about fraud?” To which I simply ask anyone to explain to me what kind of fraud you can commit in 35 days that you can’t also commit in 22 days. It’s a silly argument.

The second piece of this bill, the third-party collection piece, is similar to Sen. Halloran’s LB362 from last session. I said last year and I will say again that our ballot return system does need to be improved. No doubt about it. But the way we approach the solution and the order in which we solve the problems is extremely important.

Two things that need to be addressed here:

›› We need a plan to address the impact this change will have on current ballot collection practices. While most voters don’t use a third party for ballot collection, for those who do it is an essential option. Homebound voters, voters who can’t drive, voters experiencing unexpected circumstances near the deadline – all of those folks will be affected. It’s essential we mitigate the impact before making this change. At an absolute minimum, Nebraska would first need to provide postage-paid envelopes for returning ballots.

›› We think there is a better way to accomplish the same goal. The reason the bad actors in North Carolina, for example, were able to almost get away with their election fraud is that voters had no way of knowing something was wrong. They gave away their ballot to some strangers and that was the end of that. In some cities and states, this problem would have been flagged immediately, because the state or city had a robust ballot tracking system. Essentially, ballots can now be tracked like a package from the USPS. Voters can opt-in to receive alerts when their ballot is mailed, arrives, is received back, and when it is finally counted or rejected.

Giving voters the ability to answer the question Where is my ballot? is, in our opinion, the most efficient and effective way to prevent bad actors from manipulating early ballots. Without this tracking system, the change Sen. Groene is proposing can still be exploited and only makes the process a little more complicated without any actual security benefits.

I hope that makes sense, in what I’m saying about the order in which we solve these problems. If we were to provide paid postage and implement a better ballot tracking system, then this proposal could have some serious security benefits. But right now, it’s only costs.

I would be happy to answer any questions.

 

 

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It takes everyone

That’s why Civic Nebraska reinvigorates community, mutual responsibility, faith in democratic institutions, and citizen power across the state.

Meet Chueqa Yang, voting rights field organizer

The Omaha native and Lincoln resident helps coordinate Civic Nebraska’s policy initiatives and organizes campaigns for policy-related issues as part of our Voting Rights Initiatives team.

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