Nebraska will open voting sites for primary despite concerns

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In this April 14, 2020 photo, Pam Fleming and fellow workers stuff ballots and instructions into mail-in envelopes at the Lancaster County Election Committee offices in Lincoln, Neb. Officials in Nebraska are forging ahead with plans for the states May 12 primary despite calls from Democrats to only offer voting by mail and concerns from public health officials that in-person voting will help the coronavirus spread. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska is forging ahead with plans to hold the nation's first in-person election in more than a month, despite health concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and allegations that political motivations are fueling opposition to an all-mail approach.

Barring an unexpected change, Nebraska's primary will take place on May 12 — five weeks after Wisconsin held the last in-person balloting when courts sided with Republican legislators who pushed for that election to go forward.

Republicans who hold all statewide offices and control the Legislature have encouraged people to cast early, absentee ballots. However, they argue state law requires polling sites to be open and that it's important for voters to have a choice for how they vote, even amid health concerns.

As Secretary of State Bob Evnen put it last month, “I don’t think Nebraskans are going to stay away from the polls or not vote because of a microbe.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts agreed, arguing that to do otherwise would “disenfranchise voters who want to go to the polls," and noting that elections were previously held despite wars and pandemics.

Others, however, questioned the motives behind the decision to hold the first statewide election since Wisconsin's much-criticized April 7 primary and expressed doubt voting could safely take place. Wisconsin health officials say more than 50 people who voted in person or worked the polls during the election have tested positive for COVID-19.

The primary will decide a Democratic contest to pick a nominee to face Republican Rep. Don Bacon in the Omaha area's 2nd Congressional District, traditionally the only U.S. House seat in Nebraska where Democrats are competitive. Voters will also pick candidates in dozens of ostensibly nonpartisan legislative races, which could help determine whether Republicans gain a super-majority in the Legislature.

Nebraska Democrats have asserted for weeks that Republican leaders don't want to hold an all-mail election because of concern it would help Democrats, especially in the urban areas of Omaha and Lincoln. Republicans have dismissed such claims, but Democrats point to statements by President Donald Trump who has said “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again” if all states switched to vote-by-mail.