Special Election Ballots, 02/10/2014

Election worker Earl Haddow fills a box with ballots counted Monday at the Lancaster County Election Commission offices. Voters approved a Lincoln Public Schools $153 million bond request in the first city-wide mail-in election.

KRISTIN STREFF/Lincoln Journal Star

Dave Shively didn’t have to worry about voters driving on snowy, icy roads to polling places Tuesday to participate in the Lincoln Public Schools $153 million bond election.

And he’s thankful for that.

One of the Lancaster County election commissioner’s greatest fears is holding an election on a day with dangerous weather conditions. Other than frigid temperatures, Tuesday’s weather probably didn’t affect voter turnout if the 36 percent voter turnout was any indication.

“I wanted to make turnout increase, which we did,” Shively said. “I was concerned about weather. It was still cold.”

The turnout for the state’s largest ever mail-in election was 50 percent higher than the 24 percent turnout for a 2006 special election on a $250 million bond issue for LPS conducted at polling places across the city.

There wasn’t much Shively would change about the way he handled the special election, he said. He heard some concerns from voters about possible election fraud with a mail-in election. He said he’s confident there was little or no fraudulent voting in the LPS bond election, largely because of his office’s strict procedures for counting votes.

“No matter what you try to do, somebody’s not going to like a procedure,” he said, adding some voters visited his office to express support for the mail-in election.

Longtime poll worker Diana Yearsley said she enjoyed not having to venture into the cold Tuesday.

“I really didn’t miss getting out in the cold and the ice to set up the polls,” she said.

Coby Mach, president and CEO of the Lincoln Independent Business Association, said his organization supported the bond issue itself but would have preferred to have the issue decided during a primary or general election.

“We would like to see Lincoln Public Schools plan for the future to have these elections coincide with a regular election so that we don’t have the expenses of a special election,” he said. “We just don’t think it’s necessary.”

Shively said he expects the mail-in election will cost LPS about $275,000. By comparison, a traditional polling-place election costs about $225,000. Most of the extra cost came from having to spend about 50 cents to mail each of 163,570 ballots.

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He said the cost per ballot, considering the much higher turnout for Tuesday’s election, was still lower than the cost per ballot cast for the 2006 LPS bond election.

His office hired about 32 people beyond the eight regular staff members in his office to help with the mail-in election. That’s compared with the more than 900 people he would have needed to hire to conduct a polling-place election.

Shively is joining other election commissioners across Nebraska in seeking passage of a bill (LB946) in the Legislature that would allow election officials to not have to send ballots to inactive voters.

Introduced by Sen. John Murante of Gretna, the bill would allow election officials to avoid sending ballots to voters who’ve changed addresses but failed to respond to confirmation letters sent to their new addresses.

Shively said 29,000 out of the 163,570 ballots that his office sent out for the LPS bond election were returned to his office as undeliverable. He estimated he could have saved nearly $35,000 if he had been allowed to not send ballots to inactive voters.

He said high voter turnout increases the confidence that public servants have about voter support or opposition to a ballot issue. LPS officials plan to use the $153 million approved Tuesday night to open a high school career center, a new elementary and a new middle school.

“I think the voters showed they agreed with what the school board wanted to do,” he said.

​Reach Kevin Abourezk at 402-473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com.

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I'm a Journal Star night editor and father of five.

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