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Mail-only election expansion sought

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Mail-in voting

Martha Aerni, an employee in the Platte County Election Commissioner’s office, slips a mailed ballot from Platte Center’s special election into the poll box. Platte County is too large to conduct mail-in-only elections outside special elections, but Election Commissioner Diane Olmer is trying to get the state Legislature to waive the population cap for regular elections.

COLUMBUS — Platte County is too large to use only mailed ballots during regular elections, but the county has taken advantage of an exception allowing them to mail Platte Center voters ballots in a special election on a new sales tax.

But, the exception would become the rule if Election Commissioner Diane Olmer gets her way.

During the Platte County Board of Supervisors regular meeting Wednesday, Olmer presented a letter to the supervisors addressed to District 22 Sen. Paul Schumacher urging him to work to revise a provision that bars counties with more than 10,000 residents from collecting only mailed ballots during general and primary elections. The letter asks the legislator to introduce a bill that raises or eliminates the population cap.

With a revised population rule, Olmer said the county could issue mail-in ballots to any of its precincts. Specifically, she said her office would look at eliminating polling stations for Joliet Township’s 109 voters, a labor reduction that could save the office about $200.

If the legislation doesn’t change, Olmer said she could possibly merge the Joliet precinct with a neighboring one, but added this could create more errors than it’s worth.

If the legislation did change, the commissioner would have the option of collecting mailed ballots in all the county’s precincts during any election. These precincts would vote by mail exclusively until otherwise stated by the election commissioner or Nebraska secretary of state.

There are currently 58 precincts across 10 counties that only accept mailed ballots, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Of 17 special elections that were eligible to be conducted by mail only in 2010, eight were conducted using the option. These precincts had 55.7 percent voter participation compared to a 36.3 percent participation rate in the nine elections that stuck with standard polling stations, according to Secretary of State John Gale.

In other news, the county supervisors also:

• Appointed District 2 Supervisor Jerry Micek to be temporary chairman of the board.

• Installed Jerry Engdahl as District 6 supervisor.

• Set a public hearing for Feb. 12 to hear discussion on vacating a portion of 497th Street between 340th and 350th avenues.

• Agreed to accept bids for two one-ton pickups with flatbeds, which will be reviewed at 10:15 a.m. Feb. 12.

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