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Sec. of State Gale leaves office with election problems in the past

January 5, 2019

LINCOLN - Secretary of State John Gale leaves office after 18 years in the position; ending with elections a bit more settled than when he began.

This is the first of a two-part series.

Gale was a lawyer in North Platte when then-Gov. Mike Johanns appointed him to be Secretary of State in December of 2000.

“Shortly after that fiasco and calamity of a 2000 presidential election year,” Gale recalls during an interview with Nebraska Radio Network.

Gale says some big issues had to be addressed when he became Secretary of State, remembering an enormous national debate about the integrity of our elections.

“Of course, it all arose out of Florida in the Bush-Gore campaign which required the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve whether or not recount was appropriate in Florida or not,” Gale says.

Gale says the 2000 presidential election caused many to lose faith in elections. He set out to restore that faith.

Congress addressed some of the problems disclosed in that election by passing the Help America Vote Act. It mandated each state have a central authority to use federal funds to upgrade election equipment and improve the vote count.

At the time, Nebraska had a county-centric election system, according to Gale, with eight separate voter registration programs, 60 counties still using the questionable hand-count method, and about 40% of Nebraska counties using punch cards. Gale consolidated voter registration and discarded hand-counts and punch cards. He did make a decision early on to keep paper ballots, which Gale says have proven to be the gold standard for elections, providing a paper trail for any potential election challenges.

Gale says Johanns wanted assurances from him he would run for the office, telling Gale he didn’t want to appoint someone for just a two-year stint. Gale did run, winning election as Secretary of State in 2002. He then won re-election in 2006, 2010, and 2014; finally deciding, at the age of 78, not to run again.

Tomorrow, Gale shares his concerns about the direction of our democracy.

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