Thirty-day in-person early voting period advanced

Following two days of debate, lawmakers amended and advanced a bill from general file April 4 that would shorten the in-person early voting period in Nebraska.

Under LB271, as introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, any registered voter could appear in person before the election commissioner or county clerk to obtain his or her ballot not more than 25 days prior to an election.

Current law provides that ballots for in-person early voting will be available at least 35 days prior to an election.

Lautenbaugh said the change was suggested by the Nebraska Secretary of State’s office following a complaint filed by a visually impaired voter who tried to use a voting machine in Lancaster County within the existing in-person early voting period.

The machines used by the visually impaired to vote unassisted were not yet programmed for the election, he said, and the individual filed a discrimination complaint based on her inability to cast a ballot.

Lautenbaugh said the machines routinely are not ready 35 days in advance of an election because of the complicated nature of ballots in Nebraska, so the secretary of state recommended shortening the in-person early voting period to allow time to program the machines and ensure that anyone wishing to vote early in person could do so.

Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery supported the bill, saying it would bring Nebraska into compliance with the Help America Vote Act, adding that election officials need additional time to finalize ballots and program machines.

Few individuals choose to vote early in person, Avery said, adding that the change would not pose too great a burden on voters.

“It only applies to in-person early voting,” he said, “It does not change the terms of paper balloting at all.”

Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist expressed reservations about the bill as a solution to the discrepancy in early voting availability, and said lawmakers instead should study the issue before the next general election.

“If there is an issue, then let’s look at alternatives,” he said. “I certainly don’t support the bill unless we’re shown that this is the only alternative to solve this problem.”

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers opposed the bill, saying legislators should not pass election laws that inhibit voting access. He offered a motion April 3 to bracket the bill until June 5, which failed on a 12-29 vote.

A technical amendment also offered by Chambers failed on a 7-27 vote.

Lautenbaugh offered an amendment when debate resumed April 4, which he said represented a reluctant compromise between stakeholders and opponents of the bill in order to move the proposal forward.

The amendment, adopted 30-2, would reduce the in-person early voting period to 30 days rather than 25.

“It’s what we can do,” Lautenbaugh said.

After adopting the amendment, senators voted 31-0 to advance the bill to select file.

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