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Three Nebraska counties approved for all-mail voting

Posted at 6:00 AM, Oct 18, 2018

Three more Nebraska counties have been given state permission to hold all-mail elections next month, thanks to the success of a one-county pilot project.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports that Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale approved all-mail elections for Dawes, Merrick and Morrill counties. The turnout topped 58 percent in the all-mail voting test in Garden County for the May 15 primary.

Each of three additional counties used all-mail elections for some of their precincts and recorded higher turnout than the statewide average of 24 percent in the primary. The counties’ election officials said they expect using the mail for all voting will drive participation higher.

“We had such a poor turnout at the polls, but our all-mail precincts did great,” said Marcia Wichmann, clerk and election commissioner for Merrick County.

Merrick County has 4,744 registered voters and managed 39 percent turnout in the primary. The vote-by-mail precincts reported turnout ranging from 37.5 percent to 54.1 percent, Wichmann said, while the highest of Merrick County’s five walk-in polling places reported just 32.5 percent turnout.

State officials considered polling site accessibility, the counties’ ability to hire poll workers from different political parties, and community feedback in their decision to let three more counties conduct all-mail elections, said Wayne Bena, deputy secretary of state for elections.

Garden County has no plans to go back to its old way of doing things, deputy county clerk Mindy Santero said.

Mail-elections are more labor-intensive before Election Day, she said. Staffers must update voter addresses, cleanse voter rolls of people no longer casting ballots and find document signatures to match those returned with the mail-in ballots.

But the work pays off, Santero said. Besides gaining the higher percentage of voter participation in the primary, Garden County was able to post results and close the clerk’s office only an hour after the polls closed.