Omaha, Lincoln vote bright and early in ’21

After a record-setting 2020, voters in the state’s two largest cities continued to use the early ballot for their respective municipal elections this May – a sign that the landscape of post-pandemic voting in Nebraska is changing.

Powered by the ability to vote early, either in-person or via the U.S. Mail, Omahans on May 11 established a new standard for the number of early ballots cast in a municipal election. At least 60,323 Omaha voters chose either early mail-in ballots or to vote early in person. Unofficially, that would be about two-thirds of all ballots cast in the election, which settled all seven seats on the City Council as well as the city’s mayor.

One week earlier, during Lincoln’s May 4 city election, 64 percent of capital city voters cast early ballots. In Lincoln, the number of overall ballots rose 35 percent from four years ago; in Omaha, turnout (unofficially 88,563 with some votes to be counted) dipped 11 percent from 2017’s record high of 99,688.

ACLU of Nebraska, along with Civic Nebraska and the Nebraska Civic Engagement Table, sent vote-by-mail ballot request forms to all registered Lincoln and Omaha voters in March. Civic Nebraska and partners also conducted nonpartisan get-out-the-vote efforts and events throughout the spring in both cities. Organizers sent nearly 100,000 texts and made nearly 50,000 phone calls to Lincoln and Omaha voters.

Civic Nebraska also assisted Omahans in registering to vote at locations and events around the city and made multiple rounds of calls to voters whose early mail-in ballots were suspended or rejected.

“What we’ve seen in this two-week stretch is that when voters have the opportunity to cast ballots safely, conveniently, and securely, they will take advantage of that opportunity,” said John Cartier, Civic Nebraska’s director of voting rights. “For many Nebraskans, vote-by-mail has become the new standard.”

Early mail-in ballots are popular with voters for several reasons, Cartier said: They eliminate the need to stand in line to vote; they allow voters to cast ballots at their convenience in the weeks before Election Day; and they save time while protecting public health. Roughly a dozen rural Nebraska counties also employ all-vote-by-mail voting.

Nebraska is a “no-excuse” vote-by-mail state. Eligible, registered voters can request an early, mail-in ballot for any reason.

Civic Nebraska deployed several Election Protectors to polling sites across Omaha and opened its popular Election Protection Line to voters to address any concerns with day-of voting on May 11. Few concerns were reported Tuesday amid relatively light in-person voting.