Two statistics from the 2018 midterm elections provide a case study on why Nebraska should permit more flexibility for counties to conduct all-mail elections.
* Three of the four counties – Garden, Merrick and Morrill – with the highest percentage of voter turnout last November did so entirely by way of vote-by-mail.
* Eight of the 10 counties with the lowest turnout were ineligible to hold all-mail elections because of the present cutoff of 10,000 residents currently in state law.
Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt’s push to eliminate the population threshold and allow all counties to conduct all-mail elections, pending approval from the Secretary of State’s office, makes so much sense. Let's clear hurdles so that registered voters can more easily participate in Nebraska’s representative democracy.
Removing the arbitrary cap should help increase turnouts in geographically large counties – especially those where just one city contains a vast majority of the population.
Take sprawling Lincoln County, for example. About two-thirds of its population resides within the 13-plus square miles of North Platte, with the other 12,000 people spread among more than 2,560 square miles. In 2018, its turnout ranked in the bottom quintile of Nebraska counties, joined by others with similar demography, including Scotts Bluff, Box Butte and Cheyenne counties.
Of those 10 counties with the lowest participation in last November’s election, four are in the Panhandle. Only three of the 11 Panhandle counties exceeded a 60 percent turnout – all of which used all-mail populations.
The investment of time and resources needed to travel to a polling place in large, sparsely populated counties can dissuade Nebraskans from civic participation. All-mail elections need to be praised in the same vein as early and absentee voting for their success in allowing more citizens to cast a ballot.
In addition to the benefits of improved turnout and a decreased barrier to vote, counties have reported a decreased cost of holding elections. Much of this can be attributed to no longer needing to pay poll workers to keep several far-flung precincts open for 12 hours.
For instance, Garden County’s per-voter cost fell from $19.41 in the 2014 midterms to $13.75 during the 2016 presidential election, the first vote it conducted entirely by mail. That number dipped even further, to $13.56, in 2018. Dawes County, too, reported a decline from $3.86 in 2016 to $3.50 in 2018, its first all-mail election.
This proposal won’t eliminate in-person voting in Lincoln or other urban centers; it merely allows county officials more room to do what they see as best for their constituents. Each of Nebraska’s 93 counties must weigh different challenges as Election Day nears.
Accordingly, the Nebraska Legislature should approve Hunt’s LB163 and grant counties more control and flexibility to manage elections.