In defense of early voting, mail-in ballots

March 4, 2023 3:00 am

A Lancaster County early voting drop box sits outside of the Lancaster County Election Commission in Lincoln. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Voting by mail has been a common practice dating back to at least 1775 in New Hampshire. During the Civil War there were nearly a million soldiers away from home that needed the ability to cast their votes, and President Abraham Lincoln lobbied for and advocated for mail-in ballots. An overwhelming number of soldiers supported the Republican candidate and tipped the scales in Lincoln’s favor, allowing him to be reelected.

Nebraska has allowed counties with populations smaller than 10,000 to conduct elections by mail entirely since 2005 — an almost 20-year old rule. The election year of 2020 provided overwhelming voter turnout for the United States. Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen announcing that nearly 75% of those voting in the state utilized absentee ballots. In Nebraska, that was in part due to the 11 counties that entirely voted by mail: Boone, Cedar, Cherry, Clay, Dawes, Dixon, Garden, Knox, Merrick, Morrill, and Stanton. In those counties, 44,305 eligible voters decided to vote through absentee ballots. This is roughly equivalent to 2% of the state population.

In the Nebraska Legislature, Sen. Steve Erdman of District 47 introduced Legislative Bill 228, a bill aimed at restricting mail-in ballots through strictly defining populations that can qualify for one. The text of the bill reads, “only registered military personnel and those registered to vote with a residence at a nursing home or an assisted-living facility may vote by mail.”

It’s quite astonishing for a state legislator to openly advocate for disenfranchising nearly 10% of his constituency. Morrill County is in District 47, and nearly 3,000 people are eligible voters. District 47 has a voting population of 30,221, so LB 228 would effectively render their votes obsolete — cutting out exactly 9.7% of Erdman’s district.

Just a reminder that if you can’t win the game, change the rules. That applies to our elections, too.

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Chloe Fowler
Chloe Fowler

Chloe Fowler is a senior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, studying political science, leadership and public policy, and nonprofit management. She is the volunteer associate executive director for Nonpartisan Nebraska.