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North Platte state senator only one to speak in favor of bill that would cut down early-voting period
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North Platte state senator only one to speak in favor of bill that would cut down early-voting period

20200929_new_ballots_pic_cm004 (copy)

Every Nebraska county has at least one ballot drop box; Douglas County has 13. This one is outside Charles B. Washington Library at 2868 Ames Ave.

Lengthy early-voting periods, state Sen. Mike Groene says, work against the principles of voting in secret and on Election Day.

Legislative Bill 590, which Groene presented at its Unicameral public hearing Thursday, would cut the period when early ballots can be sent out from 35 to 20 days before an election.

The bill also would cut from 30 to 20 days the pre-Election Day time period when Nebraskans can vote at their county clerk’s or election commissioner’s office, the North Platte senator told the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

“Without 100% proof,” Groene said in his opening comments, “I cannot adhere to any of the conspiracy theories that have been brought forward” regarding the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

“But I do believe our national leaders owe all Americans a rigorous examination of our election process,” he said. “I do believe we have allowed the election process to be distorted by extending the time allowed to cast a ballot.”

Candidates’ health conditions and positions on issues are among issues that can emerge in a campaign’s final weeks, Groene said. “Meanwhile, some citizens may have voted a month earlier.”

The District 42 senator also warned that early voting invites “coaching as we fill out our ballot,” whether within a family or by groups with “rabid political philosophies who have a mission to harvest votes.”

He raised the specter of pressure groups, and eventually political parties, launching campaigns both to register voters and direct them on who to vote for.

No one else testified on LB 590’s behalf, while representatives of Nebraska’s counties and the League of Women Voters of Nebraska opposed the bill.

David Shively, Lancaster County’s election commissioner, said early voting in his county has swelled from 5,000 when he took office in 1999 to more than 90,000 last November.

A longer time period “makes our work flow better” in verifying the arrival and validity of early ballots and readying them to be counted on Election Day, said Shively, speaking on behalf of the state’s county clerks, registers of deeds and election commissioners.

“It’d be a bit more challenging to manage the workflow of those ballots and process those ballots,” added Beth Bazyn Ferrell, legal counsel for the Nebraska Association of County Officials.

LB 590’s shorter early-voting period is “an unnecessary limitation to the time allotted,” added League of Women Voters board member Sheri St. Clair of Lincoln.

David Wellsandt of Omaha cited the challenges faced by people who want to vote but need a longer time period for flexibility.

“My wife is a teacher. She just can’t get there during the day” on Election Day, he said.

Early voting lets the couple cast their ballots at home the weekend before. They also talk with their children “about who we’re voting for and why” to teach them about the electoral process, Wellsandt said.

Groene came back to his story in his closing remarks. “I don’t want to disparage anybody ... (but) that’s not how it’s done,” he said. “It’s how I’m going to vote. ... There is no ‘we’ in voting.”

More by Todd von Kampen

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2020 was a year that will make history, but it was also a year for us to reflect on our own local history. Special projects reporter Todd von Kampen shares some of his favorite stories from this year that highlight our past.

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