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Nebraska holds first in-person primary election in weeks amid pandemic

An election worker in Lincoln, Neb.
Nadette Cheney picks up a box of printed ballots as others work on preparing mail-in ballots at the Lancaster County Election Committee offices in Lincoln, Neb.
(Nati Harnik / Associated Press)

Nebraska on Tuesday will hold the nation’s first in-person primary since a heavily criticized election in Wisconsin five weeks ago in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Election officials have repeatedly urged voters to cast early, mail-in ballots, but Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts and Secretary of State Bob Evnen both pledged to forge ahead with an in-person primary even though many other states have rescheduled theirs or switched to all-mail voting.

On Monday, Ricketts said members of the Nebraska National Guard would be on call to help short-staffed polling sites in eight counties, including the Omaha and Lincoln areas. He said Guard members would be dressed in civilian clothes, not their normal uniforms.

“They’ll be available to help out,” he said.

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A Guard spokesman said 135 members had gone through poll-worker training but would not be dispatched unless requested. The counties that might have Guard members as poll workers are some of Nebraska’s hardest-hit: Dakota, Dawson, Douglas Hall, Lancaster, Lincoln, Madison and Scottsbluff.

Ricketts said he had also waived a state law that requires poll workers to live in the county where they serve, largely because of a poll worker shortage.

The presidential primary calendar is in flux as officials try to balance public health with a need to continue the electoral process.

This year’s primary is fairly low-key but will include a high-profile race among Democrats who want to unseat Republican Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. The Omaha-area district is one of the few in Republican-led Nebraska where Democrats are competitive.

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The Democratic field has three candidates: nonprofit consultant Kara Eastman, Omaha lawyer Ann Ashford and Omaha business owner Gladys Harrison. Eastman has positioned herself as a progressive, while Ashford pitches herself as a moderate. Harrison has touted herself as a unifying voice but hasn’t raised nearly as much money or gotten as much attention.


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