Voting in special elections could be easier for rural Nebraskans under a bill considered Feb. 5 by the Legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. LB 319, introduced by Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, would change two aspects of mail-in voting: the population requirement for counties to qualify for holding elections by mail and allowing special elections by mail to include candidate issues. Under current law, counties must have a population of 10,000 people or less to qualify for elections by mail. Currently there are 74 counties in Nebraska with 10,000 people or less. The bill would remove that cap to accommodate counties that have both a metropolitan and rural voter demographic. Sarpy County Election Commissioner Wayne Bena testified in favor of the bill, specifying that it would not require mail-in ballots for special elections but “would allow commissioners from each county to determine the best method for each election.”
Special elections can include issues such as bonds, economic development and sales tax. LB 319 would add candidate issues like office vacancies and recall votes to be eligible for mail-in elections as well.
Nebraska Secretary of State Communications Director Laura Strimple said in an interview that elections by mail save counties money and can result in a higher voter turn out. Data provided by the Secretary of State’s office shows that ballots sent in through the mail resulted in a higher voter turnout than voting at the polling precincts. Strimple said some voters have to drive 20-30 minutes to get to the nearest polling place.
A press release from the Secretary of State’s office said in 2011, all-mail special elections had a 49 percent voter turnout compared to 33 percent at the polls.