AURORA, Neb. — Hamilton County has experienced greater turnout with no fraud through voting by mail. But as they consider expanding it, they get pushback from residents who share claims that the experts debunk.
“No way to make sure your vote's going to count,” one man told county commissioners.
Experts say it's a myth that voting by mail results in fraud but Hamilton County residents continue to make that claim, including Gregg Kremer a former county commissioner who was elected at a time the county used some mail-in voting.
“I think it's being used in nefarious ways,” he said, suggesting Chicago is corrupt and if it’s not good there it’s not good for folks around Aurora.
Voters in six of eight Hamilton County precincts currently vote by mail. County Clerk Jill DeMers said it’s been successful and she has not had any claims of fraud.
DeMers said ballots are collected in locked boxes. She said they are opened on election night with both Democrats and Republicans present, among other safeguards.
Folks like former congressional candidate Kirk Penner tell the county to scrap plans to expand all-mail voting.
“I ask every one of you to vote no,” Penner said.
They are concerns Westin Miller of Civic Nebraska has heard.
“I have no doubt people's concerns are genuine but they're not based in reality,” Miller told NTV.
Nonpartisan public policy experts hear the frustration but say the research doesn't support claims of fraud. The data does, however, support voting by mail.
Miller said, “Many counties running elections by mail and without fail, turnout has gone up, satisfaction has gone up, efficiency of administration has gone up, actual cost per voter has gone down as a bonus and there's been no voter fraud as a result.”
DeMers, the Hamilton County Clerk says voting by mail has gone so well they'd like to expand it county wide, which prompted a public hearing. Only DeMers and former clerk Pat Anderson spoke in favor of the change.
Wayne Bena spoke in a neutral capacity.
“I feel the need to set the record straight,” Bena said, after folks had spoken for about an hour, nearly all in opposition.
Bena, a Republican, is Deputy Secretary of State who serves with Secretary Bob Evnen.
He said there are several checks and balances to ensure voting by mail is safe. Every envelope has a unique code to prevent someone from voting twice. Plus voters must sign.
“Every signature is matched,” he explained, saying if a trained election worker notices a discrepancy the ballot may be rejected.
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If you're not sure your ballot got back to the courthouse, Bena said you can drop it off in person and you can check the status of your ballot online. And in the rare event they suspect fraud, it can be prosecuted. Of the millions of ballots cast in the state in the last four years, NTV can find only two documented cases of individuals trying to vote twice, a crime that resulted in fines.
Some lament other aspects of this voting shift.
“There is a sense of community that happens when you go to vote you might see somebody you haven't seen in months,” one woman told commissioners.
But others argue voting by mail allows people to take time at home to study candidates and make informed decisions.
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Hamilton County says it's about increasing participation.
“I agree it increases voter turnout but I don't think that's the ultimate priority,” said Gregg Kremer, former county commissioner.
Westin Miller of Civic Nebraska calls that dangerous thinking, saying it's generally been noncontroversial to encourage more people to vote.
“It should be easy to vote and hard to cheat,” he said.
County commissioners say the public hearing was useful. They point out they don't make the decision though; The county clerk will decide whether or not to pursue this.
Ultimately it's up to Secretary of State Bob Evnen to decide and several smaller Nebraska counties have taken this step.