What? So What? Now What?: The Nebraska gubernatorial primary

By 2 pm Friday, the number of votes tallied in the 2022 Nebraska Primary Election reached 409,231, officials said. That's the most all-time for a statewide gubernatorial primary and second only to 2020's record-smashing primary.

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What?

Nebraska quietly made primary electoral history on Friday, May 13. At mid-afternoon, the Secretary of State’s Office reported that at least 409,231 ballots had been cast in the 2022 Nebraska Primary, which ended May 10. That means this year’s May election, powered by a competitive three-way race for the Republican nomination, is the largest gubernatorial primary in the state’s history.

The former high came in 2006, in the year of Borat, The Wire, Gnarls Barkley, and that epic GOP nomination showdown between Tom Osborne and Dave Heineman. In that primary, Nebraskans cast 400,728 ballots. It looked likely by early Wednesday, when unofficial totals were sitting at more than 396,000 ballots, that Nebraska was well on its way to a new high-water mark for a gubernatorial primary.

A qualifier: While it’s the largest gubernatorial primary election, this year’s May vote fell short of 2020’s massive primary participation. That vote, you’ll recall, took place during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and three out of every four primary voters voted early by mail. When it was all over, Nebraskans cast an impressive 492,580 ballots.

Two years later, with virus concerns largely abated, more Nebraskans turned out in person to vote on Primary Election Day. We don’t have an up-to-the-minute tally of early votes, but the Secretary of State’s Office reported the morning after the election that at least 169,978 Nebraskans cast early votes this year.

So what?

Some will sniff at this May’s overall participation rate – and while 33 percent of registered voters is not something to brag about, it’s worth noting that’s up nearly 10 percent from the last gubernatorial primary election four years ago.

It’s also clear that despite fewer worries about coronavirus this year, many Nebraska voters – more than 40 percent of the primary electorate – again opted for early ballots. This undoubtedly pushed participation higher than it would if we had returned to pre-COVID early-voting rates. By comparison, in both 2014’s and 2018’s gubernatorial primaries, only about 59,000 voters chose early ballots.

The bottom line: Voting early – and specifically, voting early by mail – appears to now be the standard for a much larger number of Nebraskans than before the pandemic.

Now what?

Local and state election officials are continuing to finalize their vote-counting of all types of ballots – early mail-in ballots, day-of in-person ballots, provisional ballots, military ballots, and other ballots from overseas Nebraskans – and are including them in their tallies. Once the totals are confirmed, the primary vote will be certified by the Nebraska Board of Canvassers. The Board meets on June 6; that’s when the primary will finally, officially be complete.

Meanwhile, for most of the state focus now turns to the Nov. 8 general election. Voters in the state’s 1st Congressional District have some business before then, however – there’s a June 28 special election to fill the CD-1 vacant seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. See our Key Election Dates page at 2022 Election Central for registration, early voting, and ballot request deadlines for that election.

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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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