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Elections
editor's pick topical alert top story
What happens if a Nebraska voter dies after voting early and other questions answered
  • Updated

The question comes up more than you might think these days. It's that kind of year and that kind of election. 

With more absentee and early in-person voting, and a virus that can be deadly surging in many states, what happens if a person votes early and then passes away? 

In Nebraska, the vote would still count, state and local election officials say. Some other states take a different stand on the issue, but in Nebraska, as long as the ballot is mailed before the person dies, the vote is valid. If the postmark is after the date they passed away, the ballot is rejected.

Lancaster County Election Commissioner Dave Shively said his office goes through the obituaries every day, and weekly gets notifications from the state vital statistics office on filed death certificates. 

"We watch that closely," he said. 

Courtesy photo 

Lancaster Election Commissioner Dave Shively

With five days to go until Tuesday's general election, Secretary of State Bob Evnen said county election officials across Nebraska are ready to conduct a safe, sensible and secure election.

“Voters are concerned about the elections this year. My message to Nebraskans is that we will maintain the integrity of our voting,” Evnen said. “Every legally cast vote will count.”

Evnen reported that early ballots from 395,420 Nebraska voters have been received and accepted by counties as of Tuesday. Properly completed early ballots that are received prior to the close of the polls on Election Day will be counted. 

Courtesy photo 

Bob Evnen

Shively said that as of Tuesday, his office has received 69,864 ballots, out of 87,503 sent. That's about 80%. 

There's also been a steady line of in-person early voters since Oct. 5, and the line grows every day. Part of the reason for the lines is that the number of people allowed into the Lancaster County Election Commission Office is limited because of COVID-19 and social distancing.

Shively hasn't made a formal turnout prediction for voting, but the past four presidential elections have had a 70% to 73% turnout. With more registrations, the total number of voters will be higher.

"Certainly, I always hope that it's higher than that, but that seems to be where I would guess we would be at," he said. "I learned a long time ago in looking at predictions you have to look at historically what you've done." 

Of those ballots requested in Lancaster County and sent out, 40,084 were sent to voters registered as Democrats and 29,992 were sent to Republicans, 16,631 were nonpartisan and 786 Libertarians. 

Lancaster County has 203,163 registered voters, more than 11,000 more than in 2018, Shively said. In 2016, the number was 189,380, which is 13,783 less than this election.  

Lancaster County has 80,383 registered Republicans, 72,862 registered Democrats, 46,522 nonpartisans and 3,396 Libertarians. 

Nonpartisan registrations are increasing the most, he said. 

Early ballots are being verified and stored securely until the day before the election, when, by law, county officials are permitted to begin counting them, Evnen said. No results will be released until after the polls close on Election Day.

“In most of our counties with larger populations, including Lancaster, Douglas and Sarpy and many other counties as well, the first results posted Tuesday night will be the results of early voting,” he said.

Ballot counts from the polls will come later in the evening, and unofficial results should be posted statewide by the end of the night, he said.

Polls open Tuesday at 8 a.m. CST and 7 a.m. MST. They close 12 hours later at 8 p.m. and 7 p.m. As a reminder, Daylight Saving Time ends Sunday.

Shively said he has enough poll workers for this election, although many will be working for the first time.

Here are the answers to other questions about this year's general election. 

How safe will polling places be?

As they did during the primary in May, polling places will have cleaning supplies, masks, gloves, disinfectant spray, tape on the floor to keep people in line 6 feet apart, booths 6 feet apart and a pen voters can use and keep. 

Shively said he has met with law enforcement, and poll workers are instructed on what to do in an emergency. Police and sheriff's departments know where all polling places are and are aware of any potential issues that could come up.

"I just hope that people who do go to their polls on Election Day remember we're all in this together, and the safety of them and our poll workers is paramount," Shively said. 

If you make a mistake on your ballot, will you be notified?

If you make a mistake on your ballot, contact your county election office for a replacement. You can check the status of your ballot on ne.gov/go/votercheck. It will tell you if your ballot has been accepted or suspended. It can be suspended for reasons such as not signing the ballot envelope, Shively said. If that's the case, the voter can go to the election office and sign it, or if some other error has occurred, ask for a replacement ballot. If not corrected, the ballot would be rejected after the election. 

What if a person requested an absentee ballot but did not get one? 

They can go to the Election Commission Office, 601 N. 46th St., and vote there.

Can a person carry a gun into a polling place?

People are allowed to open carry guns at polling places, unless the polling place is a school or other building that does not allow that. But they cannot conceal weapons, even with a concealed carry permit. 

Does Nebraska state law authorize the appointment and deputizing of citizen poll watchers? 

State law is pretty quiet about poll watchers at this time, Evnen said. One bill (LB1055) added detailed guidelines for poll watchers, but those will not go into effect until after the general election. Poll watchers are not certified at this time. 

What are unofficial poll watchers allowed to do? 

Poll watchers may observe only. They can be present inside the polling place but cannot be within 8 feet of the ballot box or ballots. And they are not allowed to engage with voters or participate in the process. Any questions or comments from watchers should be addressed to the election official and not directed to the election workers.

What are the limits on canvassing at or near a polling place?

No person is allowed to conduct an exit poll, a public opinion poll, or any other interview with voters on Election Day seeking to determine voter preference within 20 feet of the entrance of any polling place or, if inside the polling place or building, within 100 feet of any voting booth. 

Were there any instances of voter fraud in the primary, where 80% of the votes were cast by mail?

There have not been any reports of voter fraud in the primary, according to the Secretary of State's office.

The 2020 Journal Star general election Voter's Guide

Nebraska
editor's pick alert top story
21,000 people screened into Trump event; hundreds wait hours in cold for buses
  • Updated

OMAHA — Hundreds of people who attended President Donald Trump’s rally Tuesday evening at Eppley Airfield spent up to three hours in freezing temperatures waiting for buses to take them back to their cars.

Paramedics took six people to local hospitals "due to a variety of medical conditions," said Tim Conahan, police chief for the Omaha Airport Authority.

Conahan said just more than 21,000 people were screened into the event. Trump said during his speech Tuesday that 29,000 people were there.

The president, who spoke for nearly an hour, wrapped up shortly before 9 p.m. Some people in his audience waited until after midnight in 31-degree weather for campaign buses to take them to their cars, which were parked about 3 miles away.

The incident drew criticism from Trump's Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, during a speech Wednesday in Wilmington, Delaware.

Biden said Trump's supporters, including "older Americans and children," were left stranded in the cold for hours after the rally ended in Omaha.

“It’s an image that captured President Trump’s whole approach to this crisis,” Biden said, referencing the health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

"He makes a lot of big pronouncements, but they don’t hold up. He gets his photo op and he gets out," Biden said. "He leaves everyone else to suffer the consequence of his failure to make a responsible plan."

Trump campaign officials said they had enough buses ready nearby to shuttle people back to their cars, but said a larger-than-expected crowd slowed the buses’ return.

Samantha Zager, Trump's deputy national press secretary, said in a statement Wednesday morning that the campaign cares about the safety of supporters.

“President Trump loves his supporters and was thrilled to visit Omaha last night. Despite the cold, tens of thousands of people showed up for his rally. Because of the sheer size of the crowd, we deployed 40 shuttle buses — double the normal allotment — but local road closures and resulting congestion caused delays. At the guest departure location, we had tents, heaters, generators, hot cocoa, and handwarmers available for guests.”

Arrow Stage Lines had 40 coach buses taking people from the airport's South Economy parking lot and two Park 'N Go parking lots to the rally site.

Alex Busskohl, Great Plains regional director for Arrow, said those 40 buses, each of which can hold 54 passengers, began taking people to the site at 10 a.m. and didn't stop operating until everyone had made it back to their vehicles, sometime around 12:30 a.m.

Busskohl said he understood that some people were upset about how long they had to wait for a ride. The area became congested because of traffic and a large amount of people walking along Lindbergh Plaza, a two-lane road that wraps around Eppley and provides access to the part of the airport where the rally was held.

That delayed empty buses from returning to the site for additional pickups.

Busskohl said he didn't blame local officials or the Trump campaign, which hired Arrow for the event.

"I think everybody worked hard," he said.

Two Omaha Metro buses also helped transport people from the rally.

Sometime around 10 p.m., Omaha Police made a request for buses because about 500 people were unable to walk from the rally site to their vehicles, said Lauren Cencic, executive director of Metro transit.

Cencic said it's common for Metro to provide transportation when there are public safety concerns. 

"This is kind of an essential function of Metro," Cencic said.

Omahan Jason Heard said he got to the rally site at 4:45 p.m. His bus driver told him that by that point, 8,000 people had been bused over.

After the rally, Heard said, he could see it was "going to take forever" to get on a bus, so he decided to walk. It took him an hour and a half to go what he estimated was 4 miles. His cousin, who took a bus back, arrived about 30 minutes later.

"To me, it was more like people just leaving a concert and heading back to their cars," he said. "Anybody that was shocked by what happened at the end of the night wasn't really paying attention."

It would have been nice if organizers had had a plan for getting disabled people back to their vehicles, Heard said, but he didn't hear complaints from other people who were walking back.

Kris Beckenbach of Lincoln volunteered to help at the rally. She said Wednesday morning that she finally made it back to her car at 12:15 a.m.

"We were all parked over at Eppley," she said. "We were 3½ miles through darkness to get there. There was no direction given. I expected at the end of the rally somebody will say, 'Go this way and there will be buses waiting.'"

Buses came, she said, but "they didn't come back for an hour and a half."

She didn't blame organizers, however. "How do you practice for that?" she said.

Jane Kleeb, the chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, said she hoped that "those responsible for the poor planning to feed Trump’s ego will be held accountable and that fellow Nebraskans turn out to vote to end this chaos.”

Beckenbach said she didn't hear anyone "talking inappropriately to anyone else. People were respectful. We all just got tired and cold."

The Trump supporter said she would do it all again.

"It was an adventure," she said. "It was absolutely an adventure."

Photos: President Trump visits Omaha

AP
Social media CEOs rebuff bias claims, vow to defend election
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — Under fire from President Donald Trump and his allies, the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google rebuffed accusations of anti-conservative bias at a Senate hearing Wednesday and promised to aggressively defend their platforms from being used to sow chaos in next week's election.

Lawmakers of both parties, eyeing the companies' tremendous power to disseminate speech and ideas, are looking to challenge their long-enjoyed bedrock legal protections for online speech — the stated topic for the hearing but one that was quickly overtaken by questions related to the presidential campaign.

With worries over election security growing, senators on the Commerce Committee extracted promises from Twitter's Jack Dorsey, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai that their companies will be on guard against meddling by foreign actors or the incitement of violence around the election results.

Testifying via video, the executives said they are taking several steps, including partnerships with news organizations, to distribute accurate information about voting. Dorsey said Twitter was working closely with state election officials.

“We want to give people using the service as much information as possible,” he said.

Republicans, led by Trump, have accused the social media platforms, without evidence, of deliberately suppressing conservative, religious and anti-abortion views, and they say that behavior has reached new heights in the contest between the president and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the committee's chairman, said at the start of the hearing that the laws governing online speech must be updated because “the openness and freedom of the internet are under attack.”

Wicker cited the move this month by Facebook and Twitter to limit dissemination of an unverified political story from the conservative-leaning New York Post about Biden. The story, which was not confirmed by other publications, cited unverified emails from Biden’s son Hunter that were reportedly disclosed by Trump allies.

“Twitter’s conduct has by far been the most egregious,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told Dorsey. Cruz cited Twitter’s limitations on the newspaper story as part of “a pattern of censorship and silencing Americans with whom Twitter disagrees.”

“Who the hell elected you? And put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report?” Cruz asked.

Dorsey told Cruz that he does not believe that Twitter can influence elections because it's only one source of information. He tried to steer senators away from conventional notions of political bias, noting that “much of the content people see today is determined by algorithms.” He endorsed a proposal from computer scientist Stephen Wolfram that would allow third parties to guide how artificial intelligence systems choose what postings people see.

GOP senators raised with the executives an array of allegations of other bias on the platforms regarding Iran, China and Holocaust denial.

There’s no evidence that the social media giants are biased against conservative news, posts or other material, or that they favor one side of political debate over another, researchers have found. But Republicans aren't alone in raising concerns about the companies' policies.

Democrats focused their criticism mainly on hate speech, misinformation and other content that can incite violence, keep people from voting or spread falsehoods about the coronavirus. They criticized the tech CEOs for failing to police content, blaming the platforms for playing a role in hate crimes and the rise of white nationalism in the U.S.

Amid the debate, the Trump administration has asked Congress to strip some of the protections that have generally shielded the tech companies from legal responsibility for what people post on their platforms. The proposals would make changes to a provision of a 1996 law that has been the foundation for unfettered speech on the internet. Critics in both parties say that immunity under Section 230 of the law enables the social media companies to abdicate their responsibility to impartially moderate content.

Trump chimed in Wednesday with a tweet exhorting, “Repeal Section 230!"

The CEOs argued that the liability shield has helped make the internet what it is today, though Zuckerberg said he believes that Congress “should update the law to make sure it’s working as intended.” Dorsey and Pichai urged caution in making any changes.

But the executives also rejected accusations of bias. “We approach our work without political bias, full stop," Pichai said. “To do otherwise would be contrary to both our business interests and our mission."

The companies in recent years have wrestled with how strongly to intervene with speech. They have often gone out of their way not to appear biased against conservative views — a posture that some say effectively tilts them toward those viewpoints. The effort has been especially strained for Facebook, which was caught off-guard in 2016, when it was used as a conduit by Russian agents to spread misinformation benefiting Trump’s presidential campaign.

Wednesday's session lacked the in-person drama of star-witness proceedings before the coronavirus outbreak. The hearing room was nearly empty except for Wicker and a few colleagues, as most senators took part remotely, but their questioning was sharp as tempers flared among members.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, went after Republicans, saying the hearing was a “sham." With their questions, Schatz said, the Republicans “are trying to bully the heads of private companies into making a hit job" on political leaders.