Overall, the 2018 general election in Nebraska proceeded efficiently on a day Nebraskans turned out in huge numbers.
Despite best efforts, however, several polling place-related concerns were identified by Civic Nebraska-trained election observers and the public, said John Cartier, Civic Nebraska’s director of voting rights. From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. CST, the organization’s voting rights team fielded and addressed about 60 queries to its Election Day Hotline.
A persistent concern came from Douglas County, in which poll workers greeted voters at high-turnout precincts as they arrived to vote to check that the voter was in the correct place. The process, while well-intentioned, produced confusion in a number of cases. In one location, voters not found on the precinct rolls were asked to produce identification, which is not required by state law. Civic Nebraska addressed similar reports of “poll greeters” turning away some voters based on not finding them on the precinct registry.
Also during the day, Civic Nebraska received reports of poll workers handing out incomplete or duplicate ballots. And, significantly longer wait times were reported, including voters in line after polls closed at 8 p.m. in some locations.
Cartier noted that when notified, representatives in Douglas County quickly acted to correct any reported issues.
“We ask a lot out of our poll workers, who do a great job. As Nebraska grows with more and more registered voters, it’s in our state’s best interest to upgrade our voting mechanisms to take the pressure off of them,” Cartier said.
One measure would be moving away from a polling-centered arrangement to an all-vote-by-mail system, he said. All-vote-by-mail is proven to increase efficiency, boost turnout, and more easily maintain accurate voter registration rolls, he said.
Washington, Oregon, and Colorado have already switched to a system in which each registered voter is automatically mailed a ballot in advance of Election Day, with positive results.
“Human error can create concerns with the integrity of elections,” Cartier said. “This is not to say that errors are made maliciously, but we need to be aware of the difficulties of trying to train an army of poll workers well-versed in election law.”
This year, Civic Nebraska deployed a record 120 trained election observers to Nebraska polling places. Observers acted in a passive role, monitoring elections and the polling places, then reporting back to Civic Nebraska their observations – particularly instances of concern.
As part of their observations, election observers gathered data on how elections are run from one county to the next and record any irregularities or differing treatment of voters based on geography.
This information is shared with local county election officials and state election officials to identify areas of success and improvement and pursue future legislative initiatives to improve the voter’s experience. Civic Nebraska’s report to election officials will be shared publicly in early 2019.