Amid lawsuit over recount, Nebraska secretary of state to discuss accuracy of vote count

Lincoln candidate claims hand recount would end ‘squawking’ over election integrity

By: - December 7, 2022 4:39 pm

(Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

LINCOLN — Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen, who is facing a legal challenge over a recount in a tight Lincoln legislative race, has scheduled a press conference Monday to discuss the 2022 general election and results of an audit of the accuracy of the ballot count.

Cindi Allen, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said the press conference wasn’t out of the ordinary but said the legal challenge would likely come up. A similar event, she said, was held after the 2020 general election due to general concerns about election security.

Secretary of State Robert Evnen
Secretary of State Robert Evnen (Courtesy of Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office)

Everyone has their eye on elections right now, and security and integrity of elections,” Allen said.

Audit conducted since 2008

The audit, which has been conducted since 2008, tests the accuracy of vote-counting machines both before and after the general election, she said.

A legal challenge has been brought by Lincoln legislative candidate Russ Barger, who lost the District 26 race by 224 votes by George Dungan during the November general election.

That margin — 5,960 to 5,736 — is just outside the legal requirement for an automatic recount, which is 1% of the top vote-getter, or 59 votes in this case.

Hand recount sought

State law, though, allows for a candidate to request a recount, which Barger did on Friday. But Barger asked for a hand recount, a request that Evnen denied, citing state law that requires a recount to be conducted in the same manner as the count during the general election — i.e., a machine recount.

That prompted Barger to file a lawsuit Monday, asking a Lancaster County judge to order a hand recount based on another section of state law.

Lancaster County District Judge Kevin McManaman has set a court hearing for 10 a.m. Tuesday on Barger’s request to require a hand recount.

Barger, a Republican, has begun raising $25,000 to cover the cost of a hand recount and his legal fees.

Will pay for recount

“I didn’t expect it to cost as much,” Barger said Wednesday. “This is kind of fast and expensive litigation.”

Allen, of the Secretary of State’s office, estimated it would cost $11,000 to do a manual recount, as opposed to $6,000 for a machine recount. Since it is not a required, automatic recount, Barger must pay for it under state law, unless it changes the outcome. If that occurred, then the expense would be picked up by the state.

Evnen, a Republican and an attorney, has consistently defended the accuracy of the state’s vote-counting machines, which were produced by Omaha-based Election Systems and Software.

In February, Evnen produced a PowerPoint presentation entitled “Fake vs. Fact” to push back on claims by a citizens’ group that alleged, without producing evidence, that President Joe Biden did not win an electoral vote in the Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District in 2020.

Biden outpolled then-President Donald Trump by more than 22,000 votes in the 2nd District, according to certified election results. That gave Biden one of the state’s five electoral college votes under Nebraska’s system of awarding three of those votes by congressional district.

On Wednesday, Evnen got support from the Democratic Party that Nebraska elections are fair and accurate.

Jane Kleeb
Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party (Courtesy of Nebraska Democratic Party)

“The attempts of Republicans who lost their race to now litigate the issues using trumped-up claims is yet another stain on their party going all in on conspiracy theories,” said Jane Kleeb, the state chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, in a press release.

Dungan, in the same press release, said he hopes to put this “distraction” behind him

‘Furthering conspiracy theories’

“Mr. Barger is simply furthering election conspiracy theories that have no place in Nebraska,” he said. 

Barger rejected that, saying it was an “opportunity” for the Secretary of State’s office. He said that he hadn’t  brought up any election conspiracies and that a hand recount would show whether the machine count was accurate.

Barger also rejected the idea that he was conducting an exercise in futility because recounts, including those done by hand, typically change election results by only a handful of votes.

Hand recount would ‘quell squawking’

“I think (a hand recount) would make me feel better and quell a lot of squawking by a lot of folks and instill confidence in others,” Barger said.

Barger is being represented by Omaha attorney David Begley, who won attention in 2019 for confronting Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg at an Iowa campaign event.

Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, rebuked Begley, according to CNN, after Begley said he should “just tell Black people of South Bend to stop committing crime and doing drugs.”

“Racism is not going to help us get out of this,” Buttigieg told Begley, adding that a Black person is four times as likely as a white person to go to jail for the same crime.

That is evidence that systematic racism exists, the current U.S. Secretary of Transportation said.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

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