Government Military and Veterans Affairs

Bill would expand voting by mail

All Nebraska voting precincts could allow voting by mail under a bill considered by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee March 6.

Sen. Megan Hunt
Sen. Megan Hunt

LB163, introduced by Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt, would allow precincts in counties with more than 10,000 residents to vote by mail with approval from the Nebraska secretary of state. Currently, precincts in counties with fewer than 10,000 residents can vote by mail with state approval.

There are 27 Nebraska counties with populations greater than 10,000.

Hunt said 127 Nebraska precincts used vote-by-mail ballots in 2018 and most saw an increase in voter turnout. In-person turnout can be decreased by bad weather or a voter’s lack of time or transportation, Hunt said, but voting by mail alleviates those concerns.

“This is a simple, permissive bill supported by the counties that removes an unnecessary bureaucratic barrier,” Hunt said.

Westin Miller of Civic Nebraska testified in favor of the bill. He said the change would enhance local control of elections, reduce costs and increase turnout.

“LB163 doesn’t make anyone do anything,” Miller said. “It just gives all counties equal permission to engage in a conversation with the secretary of state.”

Beth Bazyn Ferrell of the Nebraska Association of County Officials also testified in support. She said some election commissioners in larger counties have expressed support for voting by mail. Even in larger counties, she said, some precincts may struggle to find poll workers or disability-accessible polling locations.

“[In the past], sometimes you could have a polling place in someone’s shed or garage,” Bazyn Ferrell said. “Now there are [facility] requirements.”

Also testifying in favor of LB163 was Caryl Guisinger. She said overall voter turnout in the 2014 midterm election was 55 percent in Nebraska. Garden County, which switched to vote by mail in 2018, saw a 76 percent turnout in last year’s midterm, she said, while Morrill and Merrick counties each reported 70 percent turnout.

“Every Nebraskan should have the option to vote by mail,” Guisinger said. “The population cap at 10,000 is an arbitrary number.”

No one spoke against LB163 and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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