As we turn the page from 2018 to 2019, we would be remiss if we didn’t pause to recognize and thank John Gale, who is retiring as Nebraska’s secretary of state. For nearly two decades, Gale has been a champion of fair, transparent, and modern elections in Nebraska. He has acted on his confidence that more people voting is the best thing for democracy. That’s something we at Civic Nebraska obviously appreciate.
His tenure as the state’s top election official began, appropriately, following an electoral defeat. In 2000, Gale was a candidate during the Republican primary for Nebraska’s 3rd Congressional District. That primary – and, eventually, the Congressional seat – was won by Rep. Tom Osborne. Gov. Mike Johanns then appointed Gale to his post after the former secretary of state, Scott Moore, resigned to enter the private sector.
In the long run, Gale’s electoral defeat turned out to be good news for all of us as we have all benefited immensely from Gale’s stewardship as secretary of state for nearly two decades. During this time the state has made big strides in updating election security, creating a uniform system across the state, and investing in other modernization tools.
Taking the long view, in fact, is a hallmark of Gale’s time in office – through four-plus terms, he has always kept the interests of Nebraskans both present and future in mind. That has earned him great respect from both sides of the aisle at the statehouse – not a small feat in today’s hyper-partisan environment.
Personally, I had the opportunity to meet with Gale shortly after I first started working at Civic Nebraska. During this meeting, it became apparent to me that all the nice things people had told me about him were true and then some. What left an immediate impact on me was his vast institutional knowledge and ability to think above partisan politics.
This will perhaps be his greatest legacy that he will leave behind — a thriving nonpartisan, long-term vision of election modernization for Nebraska. This has clearly continued through his latest term and will continue to exist when he is gone.
In 2017, Gale formed an election task force to discuss the next generation of voting systems. More than two dozen organizations involved in the state’s voting operation praised the current system but agreed it should be upgraded. That task force also urged keeping paper ballots and to consider an immediate conversion to all vote-by-mail elections.
As evidence of Gale’s devotion to modernization, this year he approved and oversaw the first county in Nebraska’s history to use an all vote-by-mail standard during a primary election. The success enjoyed by Garden County led him to approve the applications of four additional counties for this year’s general election. Before he is out of office he is expected to approve several others for 2020’s elections.
“My goal, passionately, for 18 years, has been to work with my partners in the media and political organizations to improve that voter turnout,” he recently told the Scottsbluff Star-Herald. “With vote-by-mail, we’re seeing a change in the arc of election history. But I’ll be interested to see what happens.”
While in office, John Gale has helped bend that arc toward the ideal that more Nebraskans participating in their democracy makes our state stronger. His vision, his impact, and his approach to public service will live on long after he leaves office. We thank Secretary Gale for his service to our state and wish him the very best in his well-earned retirement.
— John Cartier