Election commissioner Marie Rauner and clerk Maurica Burns of the Thayer County Clerk’s Office informed voters of the Mail Only voting process during a Coffee Talk session Sept. 2.
Precincts in Thayer County were closed for the general election Nov. 3 as the clerk’s office completed a vigorous application process to be an all-mail county. Bruning/Belvidere, Chester/Hubbell/Bryon, Alexandria/Gilead and the Davenport/Carleton precincts qualified for all mail, however, the Deshler, Hebron North and Hebron South precincts were kept open.
Burns mentioned Hebron South mainly consists of nursing and assisted living home residents, but the secretary of state’s office did not want to split Hebron. In addition, Hebron did not qualify for mail only because of the short distance for drivers who want to vote in person, however for villages like Alexandria and Gilead, driving is a factor, especially during harvest. Another factor in mail only voting was finding poll workers to man precincts for 13 hours on election day.
Deshler didn’t qualify for the same reasons as Hebron — traveling distance and cost.
The Hebron South polling location is Grace Lutheran Church. Hebron North is Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Deshler’s precinct is the Thayer County Activity Center.
Burns said voting by mail numbers “skyrocketed” for the primary election in May.
At the Davenport/Carleton precinct, the clerk’s office recorded a savings of $304 and 42 percent voted by mail in the 2020 primary as opposed to 24 percent in 2016.
For Chester-Hubbell-Byron, the savings was $260 and 15 percent more citizens voted. Bruning/Belvidere had a savings of $403.40 and acquired 14 percent more voters. Closing the Alexandria/Gilead precinct saved $596.25. Voter turnout by mail increased by 15 percent.
“We had a record turnout by mail. The turnout was noticeable because primary voters applied for absentee ballots. It was partly due to Covid and partly due to people not being able to physically vote,” she said.
The clerk’s office will mail ballots 20 days prior to the Nov. 3 election.
“Voters can request an absentee ballot and starting Oct. 5, you can actually come into the office and vote if you didn’t want your ballot to come through the mail. I know people are concerned with that,” Burns said.
Voters can also take the completed ballots that were mailed to them directly to the county clerk’s office.
Burns said masks are required at the courthouse.
“You still have the option not to send it (ballot) back in the mail,” Burns said. “There is a drop box checked every single day on the west side of the courthouse, and as it comes closer to the election, we will check it several times a day.”
Burns also covered how citizens can check www.votercheck.necvr.ne.gov to check and see if they’re registered, their assigned precinct, and track their vote.
The deadline to register to vote online is Oct. 16. The deadline to register to vote in person is Oct. 23, which is also the deadline to request a ballot by mail. Early voting runs from Oct. 5 to Nov. 2. More information is available at www.nebraska.gov.
Burns explained ballots received by the county clerk’s office will be held until 8 p.m., Nov. 3, but before that, signatures are matched to voting rosters.
“We have taken every precaution to make sure there isn’t any fraud. Between the three of us, we are looking at every signature to make sure they match,” she said.
Voters who don’t receive a ballot in the mail should contact the clerk’s office at 402-768-6126.
In an interview, Hebron Postmaster Mike Prellwitz said the U.S. Post Office system is efficient, even though at times, it might look inefficient.
“I started in 1981 and the change from then to now is like night and day,” he said about the introduction of technology that shaved mail sorting performed by three clerks to one clerk.
Machinery can sort 40,000 pieces of mail in one hour. In 1993, the post office system was reorganized through automation.
That sliced the time to process mail in half, he said.
During the 2000’s, the postal service began to downsize or eliminate post offices.
On the blue post office boxes, they’re subject to review and may be removed when 25 pieces of mail or less per month are deposited in the boxes.
It’s not something new — Prellwitz said it has been a practice since the 1980s.
For example, the post office was tracking pieces of mail per month in the Belvidere blue box, and found 14 pieces (2018) were deposited in one month and nine (2019) in another. All pieces were from local citizens.
Another cut the post office saw Fed Ex drop shipments halted by Fed Ex. Only UPS drop shipments are currently accepted.
The Hebron Post Office expanded hours beginning Aug. 3 — the window was previously closed from 11 a.m., to 12:15 p.m., and is now open. Saturday hours expanded to 8 a.m., to 10 a.m.