For nearly 200,000 Nebraskans, their role in the 2020 general election is over.
Those voters already have returned an early ballot or voted in person at a county election office, the Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office said Wednesday.
The 200,000 votes cast so far represents nearly a quarter of all those who voted in the 2016 presidential election. That year, 860,573 people cast ballots.
The rise in early voting mirrors a national trend that has seen more than 5.6 million people cast ballots a month before Election Day, USA Today reported.
That tally, including data from more than 20 states, showed that about 75,000 people had voted by this point in 2016.
Nebraska election officials said they had no way to break out its returned ballots by date but said 235,033 people voted early in 2016, including military and overseas ballots and several rural precincts that vote entirely by mail.
Several states have taken steps to make early voting easier since 2016. Nebraska and its counties sent ballot request postcards to every voter this year.
The state’s 2020 early voting numbers are being boosted by Douglas and Sarpy Counties.
Douglas County Election Commissioner Brian Kruse said voters have returned half of the 156,000 early ballots requested by mail, or nearly 77,000.
Sarpy County Election Commissioner Michelle Andahl said more than 43% of 51,000 voters who requested early ballots have returned them, or 22,000.
Both officials expect those numbers to continue to climb in a presidential election that they predict will set records for the numbers of early ballots cast.
Kruse expects about 70% of all ballots cast in Douglas County to be early ballots. Andahl expects a similar split in suburban Sarpy County.
The 30% or so who want to vote in person on Election Day, Nov. 3, can expect to find polling places open, with coronavirus safety precautions in place, officials said.
Kruse said lines at the polls may appear longer than they actually are because people will be giving one another more room due to social distancing recommendations.
Local election officials expect turnout in Douglas and Sarpy Counties to be around 70% to 75%.
Douglas and Sarpy County election officials joined local election advocates during a video call Wednesday to discuss what voters need to know about the voting process this year.
Those with absentee ballots in their possession, or headed their way, must return them by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
There is no wiggle room for late arrivals, election officials said, so people should consider returning completed ballots to county election drop boxes, available in all 93 counties.
The overwhelming majority of the early ballots returned so far in Douglas County, 80%, have been submitted via a drop box, Kruse said, not by mail.
Officials and advocates stressed the need for voters to sign the back of the ballot’s envelope. That’s the top reason ballots have been rejected so far, accounting for about 0.42% of all completed ballots in Douglas County, Kruse said.
Kruse and Andahl said voters can check the Secretary of State’s website to find out if their ballot was rejected and then come in to correct it.
Voter advocacy group Civic Nebraska is calling Douglas County voters with rejected ballots, Kruse said. Sarpy County tries to do the same for its voters, Andahl said.
The U.S. Postal Service recommends that completed early ballots be put in the mail by voters no later than Oct. 27, state election officials said.
Gavin Gels of Common Cause Nebraska and John Cartier of Civic Nebraska said voters might need to reset their expectations for quick election results on election night.
“We’re encouraging people to be patient and wait for the results to be accurate,” Gels said.
Kruse and Andahl said election workers won’t sacrifice the accuracy of their count for speed.
Still, both officials expressed optimism that they will have unofficial results on election night, in part because of a state law that allows early ballots submitted by the day before the election to be counted ahead of time.
By 8:45 p.m. on election night, Douglas and Sarpy Counties will release results that include the counts from early ballots received by Nov. 2.
Early ballots received on Election Day won’t be counted in Douglas County until Nov. 6. That means the results of some close local races may not be available until later in the week.
Provisional ballots don’t have to be counted and reported to the state until Nov. 23. Nebraska election results are formally certified on Nov. 30.
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