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Nov. 6 is Election Day, but so is today and next Wednesday. And you can vote from bed

October 13, 2018

Nov. 6 is Election Day, but in another sense, today is also Election Day.

And so is tomorrow, and the next day, and every day until Nov. 6.

Similarly, your polling place might be a nearby school or community center. But your polling place can also be your dining room table, your couch or even your bed.

More Nebraska voters are choosing the latter — getting ballots by mail and turning them in early, rather than making the traditional trip to the polls on Election Day.

The early vote drive is getting a boost as political parties, candidates and election commissions put more applications in voters’ hands.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever seen as many outside organizations mail to voters in a broad spectrum, inviting them to return the card to us to vote early,” Douglas County Election Commissioner Brian Kruse said.

Statewide, more than 64,000 people already have requested an early voting ballot, with more than two weeks to go. In 2014, the last non-presidential statewide general election, about 118,000 people voted early.

Early voting has also gotten easier. In 2016, Douglas and Sarpy Counties announced that for the first time, voters could take a picture of their early voting application and email it to the Election Commission, rather than mailing or faxing it in. Sarpy County attached early voting applications to all 110,000 poll location notices it mailed this year and added two more drop box locations. And this year, Douglas County created a new system where voters can sign up to receive an early voting ballot in every election.

In Nebraska, Democrats have traditionally cornered the early vote market, with their voters turning in ballots before Election Day in much higher numbers than those belonging to the GOP.

But this year, the Nebraska Republican Party is making a push in targeted areas to do the same.

It’s seeing results. Oct. 1 was the first day that early ballots were mailed out. On that day, almost 17,000 ballots were mailed out to Republicans statewide. Four years ago in the same time frame, about half that many ballots had been mailed.

Other voters, too, have seen an increase, though not as dramatic. Democrats, for example, saw almost 15,000 ballots go out on the first day of early voting, compared to fewer than 11,000 in 2014.

The trend follows in Douglas and Sarpy Counties, the home of many of the state’s closest partisan elections, including the 2nd Congressional District matchup between U.S. Rep. Don Bacon and Democratic challenger Kara Eastman.

Nebraska GOP executive director Kenny Zoeller said his party has made perhaps the largest push ever to get Republicans to vote early. He declined to detail the specifics, but the party is sending early ballot applications to voters in targeted areas of the state.

» [More: 2018 election guide]

The goal, he said, is in part to counteract a potential lack of voter enthusiasm, a problem that often plagues the party in power during midterm elections.

In addition, he said, it makes it much easier for voters with mobility issues, and it creates certainty.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen on Election Day,” he said. “We could have a blizzard on Election Day. It is Nebraska.”

Zoeller added that the rise in early voting means that campaigns need to essentially treat every day after Oct. 1 as a mini-Election Day. Campaigns can’t expect that a last-minute mailer sent out the weekend before Nov. 6 will reach a majority of voters — many of those people have long since cast their ballots.

In Douglas County, the Democratic Party chairwoman, Crystal Rhoades, said the goal is to engage voters who don’t show up to every election.

“People get busy, they’ve got work, they’ve got kids, they’ve got practices, they have other things, they just forget,” she said. “There’s a number of things that can stop a person from showing up on Election Day.”

Sarpy County has seen roughly 18,000 requests overall, and Election Commissioner Michelle Andahl said she expects to see about 20,000 early voting requests this year. That’s not far off from the 2016 total of more than 26,000 — and presidential elections normally see much higher turnout.

In Douglas County, Election Commission employees are working 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week, to process early voting requests. (The office is open to the public 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday). So far, the office has seen more than 47,000 requests.

Kruse is seeking funding so the office can move to a location with space for more workers.

But in the meantime, the office has had backlogs of up to 10,000 requests, meaning ballots are getting sent out a few days after the request comes in. The office processes requests in the order they come in, he said.

The deadline to request an early ballot is Oct. 26, a Friday.

Early vote requests can be accessed on the Secretary of State’s website, sos.ne.gov, and returned to your local election commission.

Nebraskans can also register to vote until Oct. 19 by mailing in a form, available on the same website, to the Election Commission or in person at the commission until Oct. 26.

The Douglas County Election Commission will stay open an extra hour, to 6 p.m., that day. Kruse said the goal is to process and send out ballots for all of the requests that come in on that day, or by the following Monday at the latest.

“Voters can be assured that we’re on top of this,” Kruse said.

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