May 15, 2024

NE officials say voting went mostly smoothly in state’s first election requiring voter ID

Posted May 15, 2024 5:00 PM
 A sign at the entry to a church campus in Bellevue, where voters cast ballots Tuesday, reminds them of the state’s new voter ID law. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)
A sign at the entry to a church campus in Bellevue, where voters cast ballots Tuesday, reminds them of the state’s new voter ID law. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

Cindy Gonzalez

Nebraska Examiner

OMAHA — A school lockdown in Lincoln on Tuesday briefly shut down a polling place.

In Omaha, a power outage caused by a construction crew gaffe had some voters casting ballots by the light of a lantern.

Those were among a few notable mishaps reported on primary Election Day in Nebraska.

But the biggest change that Nebraskans saw in voting procedures — the new legal requirement that they show a form of identification to cast a ballot at the polls — caused no widespread problems or concerns as of early evening, according to a check with various Nebraska officials.

“This has been a pretty smooth day,” said Steve Smith, spokesman for Civic Nebraska, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting voter rights and democracy. “We really didn’t know what to expect.” 

MVP of the day

He said earlier outreach efforts by the Nebraska Secretary of State — whom he called the “MVP” of the day — and advocacy groups appeared to have helped educate voters about requirements under the recently passed law.

Overall, Civic Nebraska as of about 6:30 p.m. Central Time reported an “efficient” Election Day. Smith said about four dozen observers visited a total of about 100 precincts.

Just under 50 queries were received by the “election protection line,” he said.

“Our primary is the state’s first election with the new ID requirements, and it continues to be top-of-mind with voters,” said Heather Engdahl, Civic Nebraska’s director of voting rights. “We have been providing clarity about the new law so that everyone who wishes to cast a ballot can do so without impediment.”

Among issues reported to Civic Nebraska:

  1. In Omaha and Lincoln, poll workers in a few instances were briefly unsure how to proceed after a voter presented a current Nebraska driver’s license that contained an old address. The new law allows outdated or expired ID cards, as long as they carry the person’s photo and name. Civic Nebraska said each of those situations was “quickly resolved,” and the voters were allowed to cast their ballots
  2. In Douglas County, a poll worker asked a voter to put away a mobile phone while in the voting booth. The voter cited a state law that allows voters to employ such resources to help in their voter process — and was allowed to vote.

Driver’s license and state ID were most common

Jackie Ourada, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said voting across the state had gone mostly smoothly into the evening.

She said most voters have chosen to show either a driver’s license or a state ID.

A news photographer said on social media that his Supreme Court-issued media photo ID was rejected. He wondered out loud if he would “risk a confrontation” by returning to the polling place in Otoe County.

Ourada said she was told by the county clerk that it was the name on the ID that caused confusion for the workers, as opposed to the type of ID. The name reportedly was similar to another voter’s name on the roster, the clerk said.

In another instance, Ourada said, a voter in Douglas County showed an out-of-state driver’s license, which is not acceptable ID under the new law. She said the person was allowed to fill out a provisional ballot, which requires the voter to report to the election commissioner within a week with an acceptable form of ID so the ballot can be counted.

Social media also highlighted pro-life messages scribbled in chalk near a polling place at Omaha Skutt Catholic High School.

Brian Kruse, Douglas County election commissioner, said he did not see the chalkings as electioneering violations since no abortion-related initiatives were on the ballot. 

SWAT team in the area

Kruse said that voting overall in Douglas County had gone relatively smoothly into the evening, with perhaps the most notable mishap being the power outage in central Omaha that affected two church polling places for less than two hours.

Voting continued with the help of natural light in one church. The other had voting booths in the basement. The Election Commissioner’s Office sent a runner to that facility with several  lanterns, and the church also provided lanterns and flashlights.

In Sarpy County, Election Commissioner Emily Ethington said voting was “running smoothly” with “no issues to report” as of early evening.

In Lincoln, a polling place at Mickle Middle School was closed from about 8:20 a.m. to 8:54 a.m. because the school was placed in lockdown, said Lancaster County Election Commissioner Todd Wiltgen.

The school chose to go into lockdown mode after learning that the Lincoln Police Department and its SWAT team were in the neighborhood serving an arrest warrant.

Wiltgen said his office had a plan to relocate the polling place to another spot nearby, but the school reopened before the move started.

He said there was light voter turnout at the time, and he did not think anyone was turned away.

Overall, Wiltgen said, voting operations had gone smoothly into the evening. He knew of no problems related to voter ID.

Washing machine woe

An official at Spirit Life Church in Bellevue said morning voting had gone without any snags.

A yard sign planted at the entrance of a long driveway reminded voters of the need for ID. Another sign waited at the door.

“People have their IDs ready,” said Stephanie Warren.

At the American Legion Post 331 in South Omaha, polling official Janet Bonet said voting was light and no concerns had surfaced with voter ID.

She said one woman, a naturalized citizen born in El Salvador, had walked to the polling place to vote for the third time since becoming a citizen. She told workers that her mail-in ballot had gotten ruined in the washing machine. 

Bonet said the decision was made for the woman to cast a provisional ballot, as everyone wanted to see her vote count.

“It’s been a good experience so far for me and everybody else,” Bonet said of the day.