Few problems reported in 2018 election were attributed to high number of voters, poll worker training

February 19, 2019

Few issues were reported during November’s general election despite a record-high turnout by Nebraskans, according to a report from a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that monitored the election.

Voter turnout neared 58 percent for the midterm election cycle, which included statewide races in Nebraska. A total of 706,652 votes were cast of 1,219,319 registered voters.

Nearly all of the problems, Civic Nebraska said in a review of the election conducted by more than 120 observers, were attributable to the high volume of voters who went to the polls, as well as insufficient training of poll workers in precincts across the state.

“Most of the issues encountered on Election Day had the common denominator of human error,” the Feb. 13 report states.

“A substantial number of reports indicated that poll worker training was insufficient to handle the high volume of voters at their locations with the precision and accuracy required for elections.”

John Cartier, director of voting rights for Civic Nebraska, said poll workers “by and large ... do a fantastic job,” in accommodating and serving voters at their precincts.

“The reality of training 8,000 people to completely understand all of the finer points of election law is that it is probably impossible to do so with 100 percent accuracy,” Cartier said. “This measure of accuracy, however, is absolutely required for elections.”

A majority of the issues reported Nov. 6 came from Douglas County, where voters reported “poll greeters” blocking entrances to voting areas and checking photo identifications -- which Civic Nebraska noted is “in violation of Nebraska’s Constitution.”

Voters at multiple locations in Douglas County also reported receiving one page of a two-page ballot, or receiving duplicate pages.

Lancaster County had fewer problems, according to the observers who watched polling places and voter reports, but issues including electioneering and the lack of voting instructions in languages other than English were reported.

In one instance, a voter refused to take off a hat promoting a candidate at a polling place and became angry at the poll workers who asked him to do so, an observer reported. In another, a voter wearing a shirt expressing support for women’s issues was not allowed to vote until she covered up the message on the garment, which she did, the report indicated.

Meanwhile, Civic Nebraska said the lack of voter instructions in languages other than English was problematic across the state, but particularly in Lancaster County where 48 different languages are spoken according to census data.

There were also reported problems with voting machines in Saunders and Saline counties.

A vote tabulator in Saunders County shut down during the night and wasn’t brought online until 3 a.m. Civic Nebraska said the incident did not appear to affect anything other than delaying election results.

Irregularities were reported in the Saline County vote total, however. A Civic Nebraska observer found the machine to be doubling numbers in a single precinct, and vote totals ending in an odd number had an additional vote added to the total figure.

Several voter registration anomalies were also reported across the state, including voters told their registrations had not been updated with their current address, or some voters having been taken off the rolls.

“Nothing conclusive came up as to what might have caused these issues aside from voter’s own human error,” the report concluded. “There is nothing to suggest there is a bug in the voter registration system.”

Civic Nebraska recommended the state standardize training for poll workers, including poll greeters that caused confusion at some precincts, determine precincts needing additional language assistance and work to better communicate changes at the polling locations.

The organization also recommended expanding vote-by-mail in the state -- a bill (LB163) from Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt would allow all county election commissioners to apply to the Secretary of State’s office to conduct an all-mail election -- pointing to success in four Nebraska counties.

Other policy recommendations include automatic voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles, and approving a $12.1 million plan proposed by Gov. Pete Ricketts to replace aging ballot counting equipment.