Each year, Civic Nebraska’s Strengthening Democracy Awards recognize Nebraskans whose work embodies the spirit of a modern, robust democracy. Among our 2019 honorees are educators, administrators, students and everyday Nebraskans. We officially honor the winners May 2 (get tickets here), but before then, here’s a chance to learn a bit more about what makes them special.
Defender of Democracy Award
Civic Nebraska honors Edison McDonald, executive director of The Arc of Nebraska, for vigilantly fighting to expand rights for others. McDonald has been a powerful and competent voice at the Nebraska State Capitol for disability rights – working to ensure that access to the ballot for all Nebraskans.
John Cartier, Civic Nebraska’s director of voting rights, said McDonald is a key member of Civic Nebraska’s coalition of partners to help recruit, train, and organize nonpartisan election observers in Nebraska.
“Edison is always moving in a direction that is expanding rights for others. His community involvement and experience as a young adult in Nebraska is practically unmatched,” Cartier said.
McDonald helped to train the 120 election observers Civic Nebraska deployed Nov. 6 during the 2018 general election. He also answered and addressed voter concerns via the Civic Nebraska Election Protection Hotline, with a special emphasis on gathering information about access to polling places for Nebraskans with disabilities.
That emphasis, coupled with a record amount of election observers deployed, produced a nation-leading data set that showed invaluable opportunities to improve the state’s voting systems for people with disabilities.
“I believe that the process of connecting people with the resources that they need is vital to the success of our society,” McDonald says.
Outstanding Voting Rights Advocate
Civic Nebraska honors Robin Vodehnal for her energetic service as an Election Protector and an advocate for voting rights in Greater Nebraska.
During the 2018 general election, Vodehnal played an instrumental role in recruiting and organizing nonpartisan election observers and voting rights advocates in central Nebraska, said Brad Christian-Sallis, Civic Nebraska’s voting rights field director.
“Robin’s work to rally fellow community advocates in the Hastings area resulted in stronger oversight in Greater Nebraska on Election Day,” Christian-Sallis said. “Robin defines herself as a ‘working volunteer,’ and we are grateful for her tireless work to ensure transparency and access to the ballot.”
This year, Civic Nebraska has expanded its Civic Health Programs and Voting Rights Initiatives into Greater Nebraska, adding full-time staff to build connections and organize Voting Rights Advocates across the state. With volunteers and partners like Vodehnal, Christian-Sallis said, Civic Nebraska has a firm foundation from which to build.
Vodehnal, who lives in Hastings, is an advocate for civic engagement no matter the issue. “I believe that activism is a verb, not a noun,” she said. “My mantra is, ‘Only action will change the culture. Belief will do nothing to help.’ ”
Meet Edison, Robin, and their fellow honorees at this year’s Strengthening Democracy Awards on May 2 at The DelRay Ballroom in Lincoln. Get your tickets here.