Nebraskans are voting early by mail in big numbers, many for the first time using the process. That’s led to more than a few questions, and also some myths. In this guest blog post, Cherry County election officials Brittny Petersen and Elise Hamling confront the common misconceptions about early mail-in ballots. Cherry County is one of a handful of Nebraska counties that conducts elections using all-vote-by-mail.
No. 1: If you mail ballots to more voters, people will ask for “replacement ballots” and vote multiple times or duplicate the ballot and vote multiple times.
Ballot envelopes include a barcode unique to the individual voter. Upon return, only one ballot from any voter is accepted — the first in. Others would be rejected, and if criminal intent is suspected, the voter could be prosecuted. Ballots in an envelope without a barcode are rejected.
No. 2: Anyone can intercept the mail and vote someone else’s ballot.
Signature verification is Nebraska’s safeguard for ballot security. Every return ballot envelope requires a signature for the vote to count. Each signature is checked against signatures already on file. If a signature is unable to be verified, the election commissioner will reach out to the voter within two days to ascertain whether the voter cast the ballot. If a signature appears to be fraudulent and does not match signatures previously documented from that voter, it may be forwarded to law enforcement handwriting analysis specialists and prosecuted, if applicable, to the full extent of the law.
Stealing a ballot is a federal crime. A voter who does not receive a ballot, or loses it, can simply contact the election commissioner’s office and another ballot will be issued. Ultimately, only one ballot per voter will be counted.
No. 3: If you mail out ballots, non-citizens will be able to vote. So will dead people.
Ballots are only mailed to active, registered voters. The question of citizenship is handled during the registration process, which occurs before a ballot can be issued. Nebraska has an interconnected system that has automated processes to regularly crosscheck death records and DMV information. These processes help prevent ballots from going to a deceased voter or to someone who no longer resides within our jurisdiction. Should that registrant have passed away after the ballots had been mailed out, that ballot would be either returned by the postmaster with a ‘Deceased’ endorsement or we would have already deactivated that ballot prior to it ever being received back which disables its ability to be counted and puts a flag on that record. Should someone attempt to fraudulently vote a ballot we would again reference the signature safeguarding in No. 2.
No. 4: Voters move around and don’t update their addresses, leaving ballots floating around that other people can use.
By federal law, election mail is deliverable only as addressed. If a ballot is unable to be delivered to the registrant as addressed, that ballot is then returned to election officials and documented. Should someone manage to steal one of these ballots, however, the signature verification process should then prevent this fraudulent vote from being counted (See No. 2).
Voter registration eligibility is based entirely on where a registrant lives. It is the responsibility of the voter to ensure that their voter registration address is correct and up to date.
Cherry County works with the Secretary of State’s office bi-annually to utilize shared information from the U.S. Postal Service to reach out to voters who may have moved. This is a courtesy outreach to ensure that a voter does not lose their eligibility to vote and to prevent mailing a ballot to a residence where the voter no longer resides.
No. 5: The Postal Service is unreliable. My ballot may not get to me or get back to be counted.
The Postal Service is remarkably reliable. The most current statistics reflect an overall 98.8 percent delivery accuracy for single mail pieces.
Cherry County works directly with the local and neighboring Postmasters and keeps clear communication regarding ballot drop-off and prioritization tags that minimize the delivery timeline for mailed ballots. The Postal Service now offers a free service called Informed Delivery, so voters have an increased ability to see when ballots near delivery.
If someone does not receive their ballot, they should contact their election commissioner’s office immediately to ensure the ballot is replaced and that all eligible votes are counted.
Ballot status information, such as date sent, date received, and ballot status, is available through the Nebraska Voter Information Lookup. Ballots can also be returned in person directly to your county election commissioner or deposited in a secure drop box.
No. 6. Other members of a household may unduly influence the vote.
The assertation of a voter’s rights is the responsibility of the voter and the voter alone.
While undue influence is possible, and also a crime, in almost any election system, hundreds of millions of ballots cast by mail over the last 20 years reveal it’s a non-problem. Those concerned about this issue should instead work to strengthen state laws that deter and punish bad actors from taking advantage of voters in all states.
No. 7: If people cannot make an effort and vote in person, they don’t deserve to vote.
Voting is a right. We get that right with our citizenship. It is the responsibility of a voter to exercise that right. If a person registers to vote, they have taken the necessary step to exercise that Constitutional right. It is the responsibility of the election commissioner to offer the same resources to all people equally and without discrimination. A voter does not have to vote the ballot sent to them to remain an active registered voter.
No. 8: States with higher use of mailed-out ballots do not see materially higher voter turnout.
Since the initial implementation of all-mail precincts in 2006 in Cherry County, those precincts being conducted entirely by mail have averaged a 71 percent voter turnout, in comparison to the remaining polling places’ 48 percent voter turnout average.
Cherry County has already experienced an exceedingly positive impact from the all-mail voting process implementation. The 2020 Primary Election resulted in a 71 percent voter turnout in Cherry County, the highest in Nebraska.