Nebraska Expands Voting-by-Mail to More of Its Rural Counties

A rural road in western Nebraska

A rural road in western Nebraska Michael Grass


Connecting state and local government leaders

After Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale approved the expansion of voting by mail to three additional rural jurisdictions following a successful pilot project general-election ballots will arrive this week in the mailboxes of registered voters in Dawes, Morrill and Merrick counties.

As the Lincoln Journal-Star reported, Garden County, the location of the pilot in western Nebraska, saw its voter participation rise to 58 percent in the primary election with all mail-in voting. Some precincts in those counties have already had mail-by-voting, but the countywide expansion is expected to similarly boost participation on Nov. 6.

"Looking at our voter turnout, we had such a poor turnout at the polls, but our all-mail precincts did great," Marcia Wichmann, clerk and election commissioner for Merrick County, told the Journal-Star.

While mail-in balloting is often viewed as way to boost voter participate, it’s also a way for counties to reduce their elections administration costs. In many rural Nebraska counties that also involves compensating mileage for poll workers who have to travel great distances to voting locations serving sparsely populated jurisdictions.

More states have been opening the door to mail-in voting, which is now used statewide for elections in Colorado, Oregon and Washington state.

Proponents of mail-in voting, like Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, tout voting-by-mail’s advantages for election security purposes. As The Spokesman-Review reported this week:

Unlike some states that use electronic voting, Washington’s vote-by-mail system uses paper ballots that can be checked if any questions about results arise. The machines, which count the ballots, are not tied to the internet, making them safe from hackers. Additionally, the online registration system has firewalls and sensors in each county designed to detect suspicious activity, Secretary of State Kim Wyman said at a special news conference on election security.

Twenty years ago, Oregon voters approved Measure 60, which green-lighted the introduction of mail-in balloting statewide.

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.

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