As Nebraska’s voting machines approach the end of their useful lifespans and replacement funding is likely to be difficult to find in the future, the Legislature is looking at moving the state to all-mail elections.
Wisely, Sen. John Murante, who chairs the special committee on election technology, is seeking much more input before recommending any kind of change in the voting system that is administered by the state’s 93 counties.
"I'm not hearing any opposition from the counties, but I would want to make sure the people of Nebraska are on board," Murante said. "If we make that drastic a change, we need a lot of public input."
Three states now hold elections entirely by mail — Oregon, which adopted all-mail voting in 2000, Washington (2011) and Colorado (2013). Colorado had a 71 percent turnout in November in its first presidential election with all-mail voting. Oregon had a 68 percent turnout. Those turnouts put those two states behind only Minnesota, New Hampshire and Maine in turnout percentage.
Washington, however, had a 65 percent turnout, just two percent higher than in Nebraska. So an increase in turnout, which is always desirable, isn’t a guarantee with all-mail, particularly in large turnout elections, like general elections in a presidential year. Turnouts in small turnout elections, like city elections or primaries with few contests, generally have larger increases with all-mail voting.
There are pluses and minuses for all-mail voting. It’s seen as more convenient and voters often say they want the mail system. And it saves some money simply by having no poll workers and Election Day costs.
Mail voting, however, does increase election printing costs and it too requires equipment that can scan the paper ballots, creating a one-time cost that could be quite high for counties.
Some have raised “security” questions about all-mail balloting as well, that voters may be coerced by family members, friends, acquaintances or even employers.
And then there is the question of eliminating the Election Day tradition of going to polls. Voters surveyed elsewhere tend to favor continuing the process with which they are familiar and moving to all-mail voting would eliminate one of the only remaining civic experiences engaged in by a large percentage of our communities.
Moving to all-mail voting wouldn't be without consequences, but it could have multiple benefits, meriting further study and public input that Murante is seeking before any change is proposed or implemented.