Early Voting, Options for Independents Increase Election Interest


A manila envelope drops into a red and white mailbox, as another ballot is cast.

Justin Spiehs is among 50,000 Nebraskans who asked for their ballots early.

"So I didn't forget, made it easy, ballot showed up at home, I can drop it off when I got time," he explained.

Hall County made it even easier with a drop box. Justin pulled up, and didn't even have to get out of his car.

Gone are the days when you needed an excuse to vote absentee. Anyone can, and many do.

Hall County Election Commissioner Dale Baker said, "It's very popular and it's getting more so every election. People find the convenience of it all; they can take their ballots home, take their time voting them, bring them back at their convenience."

The deadline to request an early ballot has passed. However, you can vote in person until 5 p.m. Monday at your local election office.

We're also past the deadline to change parties. Most of the contested races are on the GOP ticket.

But if you're not a Republican, don't assume there's nothing to vote for.

Baker said, "There's a misnomer if you're a non-partisan voter you don't have anything to vote on and that's not true. Especially in this election in Nebraska, the Democrats and Libertarians have opened up their entire ballot to a non-partisan voter so all you have to do when you get to the polling place is ask for that additional ballot."

Regardless of party affiliation, voters will also have a chance to vote in non-partisan elections, like those for school board, city council, and mayor, depending where they live. Voters in Hastings will also decide the fate of a school bond issue, and there are other ballot initiatives in other communities.

Another change affects which races are even on the ballot.

"If you're the only Democrat running for a county treasurer or whatever, you're automatically nominated and will show up on the ballot in the general election," Baker explained.

Turnout is expected to hit 30 percent. And many of those ballots have already been cast, by voters like Justin Spiehs, who pulled up, dropped his ballot off, and avoided the lines next Tuesday.

"Exactly," he said.

Across the state, 54,000 people asked for an early ballot, according to Secretary of State John Gale. That's almost double the number four years ago during the May 2010 primary.

Gale said he expects with a record number of strong contenders in well-financed races in both the U.S. Senate race and the governor’s race, it will likely fuel considerable activity at the polls. “That’s our hope, that voters will feel engaged, not just in these statewide races but also those races that directly impact their own communities.”

Early ballots that are mailed in must be received at the county election office by the close of polls on Election Day. The same is true for any ballots that are hand-delivered. They must be returned to the county election office by the time polls close.