Nebraska lawmakers began debate Wednesday on a bill to reduce the number of days for in-person early voting in order to prevent situations like the one in which a blind Lincoln woman couldn’t cast an early ballot because the machine to help disabled voters was not ready. Late last year, a hearing officer, Lincoln attorney Robert Kinsey Jr., suggested reducing the period for in-person, early voting from 35 days to 25 days. Kinsey was appointed to oversee the case, which stemmed from a complaint filed by Nebraskans for Civic Reform on behalf of Fatos Floyd of Lincoln. Floyd, who is blind, called the Lincoln Election Commissioner’s Office on Oct. 3 — two days after in-person early voting began — to say she was bringing in a friend with visual impairment to vote on the county’s Automark terminal but was told the machine’s software wasn’t yet available. Neal Erickson, deputy secretary of state for elections, said earlier the main problem is that Nebraska law says ballots for early voting must be ready 35 days before the election. The law also says the ballots must be certified by the secretary of state 50 days before the election. In the 15 days between the two deadlines, election officials must finalize the ballot layouts, print the ballots and program Automark terminals.
As part of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, Automark Voter Assist Terminals must be available to disabled voters. The Automark terminal allows a disabled voter to make selections by using a touch screen or keypad while listening to the ballot over a set of headphones.
Lancaster County Election Commissioner Dave Shively testified at the hearing that the programming of the machine in his office — which was done by Elections System & Software of Omaha — wasn’t completed until Oct. 9.
Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha, who sponsored the measure (LB271), said: “Those machines are routinely not ready 35 days out.
“This is not something that would cause a hardship to any voter,” he said. “People could still show to get a ballot and mail it back.”
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