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Nebraska legislature mulls bill to reduce early voting days

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Deborah Van Fleet

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(Nebraska News Connection) Nebraska is among at least 14 states that enacted voting restrictions last year, passing a voter ID law. Next week, a legislative committee takes up another bill that would restrict certain voting rights in the state.

LB-1211 would reduce the time that voters have to receive, complete and return absentee ballots or vote early in person from 35 days to 22.

Heidi Uhing, director of public policy for the group Civic Nebraska, questioned the logic of condensing election officials' time to process ballots - especially now, when they're preparing for the state's first election requiring voter ID.

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"To make sure that all their new processes are detailed in their manuals, and everything's in order as far as the new forms and envelopes they need to be providing to voters," she said, "and doing lots of internal training and hiring to make sure that folks are really up to speed on all the nuances of that policy."

Opponents of vote-by-mail and early voting believe they increase voter fraud, although evidence doesn't support this claim. Less than four-tenths of a percent of Nebraska's mail-in ballots in the 2022 midterm were rejected.

The bill's first hearing will be held at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Uhing said people have different reasons for preferring to vote by mail, including travel time to the polls, work-schedule conflicts, and having more time to think about their choices. 

"I think that folks have really engaged in this kind of voting and found it beneficial in a variety of ways," she said, "and I don't think it's the business of the state to really be limiting options available to our voters, when what we should be focusing on is ways that we can make this more convenient and efficient for them."

Cherry County Election Commissioner Brittny Longcor said 13 fewer days could make a big difference in mailing absentee ballots and getting them back in time. But she said she believes the change would be especially problematic for the state's high-population counties.

"Like in Douglas County, it will cause a time crunch for the processing of all of those," she said, "because, you know, we have 4,000 or so here to process, where they have hundreds of thousands to process."

Cherry County, population roughly 5,500, has all vote-by-mail elections, which Nebraska allows for counties with populations of less than 10,000. 

Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corp. of New York.