The record-smashing number of Nebraskans voting by mail this year appears to be relieving strain on in-person polling sites today, as Civic Nebraska observers and hotline callers indicate light participation at precincts around Omaha, Lincoln, and Greater Nebraska.
Faced with the continued spread of COVID-19 in the state, nearly 500,000 Nebraskans had requested mail-in ballots for today’s primary election. As of Monday, nearly 360,000 had been returned to election officials. Voters have until 8 pm CDT today to deposit them in a county election office dropbox.
“We’re grateful to the overwhelming number of Nebraskans who voted by mail, which is a secure and convenient way to cast a ballot in sickness and in health,” said John Cartier, Civic Nebraska’s director of voting rights. “Nebraska voters were presented with a challenge this election year, and they have risen to it.”
Several calls to Civic Nebraska’s Election Protection Hotline, 402.890.5291, came after voters found their usual polling places closed and needed help locating where to go. To protect voters and poll workers, several counties consolidated polling places. Nebraskans still needing to know where to vote can check the secretary of state’s website, or can call or text the Civic Nebraska hotline.
> Several callers reported police officers and vehicles parked directly outside polling locations. In Adams County, members of the Nebraska National Guard in hazmat suits were conducting free COVID drive-by testing next to the polling place.
> There were reports of poll workers incorrectly telling some nonpartisan voters that they could not receive a Democratic nonpartisan ballot. In Nebraska’s primaries, registered nonpartisans can also cast votes for Democrats, Republicans, or Libertarians. To do so, nonpartisans must request a nonpartisan Democratic, nonpartisan Republican, or nonpartisan Libertarian ballot at their polling station.
> And, a voter in Saline County reported they were asked to present a driver’s license before being allowed to cast their ballot. In Nebraska, voters do not have to show photo identification.
Other than those instances, which were quickly addressed, the first several hours of Election Day appeared to be proceeding smoothly and safely – in large part because of the record number of early mail-in votes, Cartier said.
Nebraska’s previous high-water mark for early mail-in ballots in a primary was about 59,000 in 2018. The 360,000-plus early mail-in ballots returned as of Monday already has eclipsed the total number of voters – early, mail-in, and day-of – in the May 2016 primary by nearly 50,000 votes. The state’s highest-turnout primary ever was 1972, when just over 413,000 ballots were cast.
This is the fifth election cycle for Civic Nebraska’s Election Protection Program observation program. Civic Nebraska will release a full report from today’s primary election once it compiles all information from precincts and the hotline.