Mail-in ballots economical, but fail to build community

A small county in Nebraska is voting by mail to reduce voting costs, but some miss Election Day camaraderie.

Mail voting often reduces costs and improves voter turnout, but residents of some rural
communities say their sense of community is dwindling
with the removal of in-person polling locations.

Residents of Cherry County, Neb., which at 100 miles wide is the
state’s geographically largest county, miss election days when neighbors
gathered to vote.

“You did more than just vote. You sat and visited with people,” said
rancher Paul Young, adding it wasn’t uncommon for cake, pie and coffee
to be served at the school polling place that closed seven years

Tom Elliott, the county’s election commissioner, agreed, but says
the switch is an economically better way to run elections. The switch to vote-by-mail has allowed the county to trim 121 Election Day employees.
“We all enjoyed that traditional aspect of going to the polling
place,” Elliott said, adding that the conclusion was foregone.

By Emily Nohr, News21

Polling stations to reopen in Nebraska’s largest city

Voting locations in Douglas County, Neb., will reopen in November, following the election commissioner’s order this year to close about half the polling precincts.

Twenty-seven polling places will reopen for Election Day, commissioner Dave Phipps said.

The announcement came after 166 of 353 original polling precincts in Douglas County, which includes Omaha, Nebraska’s largest city, were closed before the May 5 primary.

Phipps cited budget constraints and trimming precincts, he said, would save the county $115,000. Many Omaha groups criticized the decision, which is allowable under a Nebraska statute adopted last year.

“It would save money, but the details are that it disproportionately closed polling places in the two strongest Obama voter areas. What a coincidence?” said Preston Love Jr., a community activist who works with the voting rights group North Omaha Voters Call to Action Coalition.

In 2008, North Omaha, a predominantly black community that encompasses Nebraska’s second congressional district, gave then-candidate Barack Obama its electoral vote. The last time a Democrat received one of Nebraska’s electoral votes was Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Nebraska and Maine are the only states where electoral college votes are awarded to congressional districts.

By Emily Nohr, News21

Coffee Break Ballot, June 26: Current Trends in Voting Rights

All it takes is one buzzy story for mentions of one of our key search terms to increase ninefold.

That term is voter ID, and that story comes to us today from Pennsylvania. At a Pennsylvania Republican Committee meeting this weekend, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai said that the new voter ID law would help Gov. Mitt Romney win the state.

The comment was reported by a Pennsylvania political blog Monday afternoon, and exploded across the Internet as progressive Twitter users reacted. Top-flight news organizations as diverse as CNN, Politico and even The New York Times have covered the story, and a tweet from Sandra Fluke, Georgetown law student and progressive activist, has been retweeted more than 100 times as of this blog post.

The resulting social media firestorm has pushed mentions of voter ID on Twitter to nearly 9,300 in the last 24 hours, the most seen in our regular searches on

More on the Twitter explosion later, but first, some links.

What We’ve Been Reading

Casting ballots on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border,” (Catherine E. Shoichet, 06/26, CNN)

Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law Spurs Debate,” (Michael Cooper, 06/25, New York Times)

No voter ID measure expected this session,” (John Frank, 06/26, Raleigh News & Observer)

Pay Those Bills On Time Or Forefeit Right To Vote,” (Ed Kilgore, 06/26, Washington Monthly)

Gilchrist indicted for voter fraud,” (Kaylee Remington, 06/26, The Morning Journal)

Detroit activists protest Gov. Rick Snyder over ‘voter suppression’ bills, bridge project,” (Jonathan Oosting, 06/26, MLIVE)

Twitter Trends

We could tell you again about how many times “voter ID” has been mentioned in the last 24 hours, or we could just direct you to this helpful analytics chart from

That steep climb in mentions, and the buzz-worthy item in Pennsylvania has a lot of features that make stories like it popular on social media sites.

It features a prominent but nationally unknown state politician making politically tricky comments at a party-sponsored event. The tone and implications of Turzai’s comments lend credence to those who oppose voter ID laws and believe Republicans are trying to suppress Democrat voters. And the story has been tossed around a variety of news sites, exposing it to a wide audience and giving it the appearance of a major news event.

The furor over Turzai’s comments may die soon. We’re already seeing conservative pushback against this progressive anger, alleging that voter ID does intentionally suppress illegal or fraudulent Democrat voters and is therefore required and welcomed.

But know this: even the most inane political comment is no longer safe from the 24-hour hyper news cycle of Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the Internet, as Turzai now clearly knows.

For more news and links, follow us @WhoCanVote.

A quick glance at U.S. voting patterns

Members of the News21 team are compiling data from the U.S. Census and academic studies to better distinguish voting patterns.

Here is a sneak peek at what they’ve been working on:

• In the 2010 election, the state with the lowest percentage of voting-age registered people was Hawaii, with 48.3 percent. However, Texas was the worst state for registered voter turnout, with 31.4 percent.

• Maine topped all states two years ago and was first in registered voters and turnout in the 2010 election. Nearly three-quarters of those eligible in Maine are registered, and 58 percent voted.

• A 2006 Pew Center survey on who votes highlighted different categories of people likely to register and vote.

1) Conservatives are more likely to be registered and vote regularly, while liberals are less likely to register.

2) Married people vote more frequently than non-married people.

3) Nearly 25 percent of people who moved to a new neighborhood within a year are not registered to vote, and only three percent of them regularly vote.

4) Persons 50 to 64 years old vote most regularly.

By Alia Conley, News21

Sam Reed: Monitoring Washington elections

Sam Reed: Monitoring Washington elections

Secretrary of State Sam Reed's responsibilities include overseeing elections is Washington state. Photo provided.

A part of Sam Reed’s job as Washington’s secretary of state, is chief election official.

Reed, who is retiring this year, might best be remembered for overseeing the state’s 2004
gubernatorial election – the closest in U.S. history – and the recount that

“We made sure that everything we did was in public view,” he said. “If
there were mistakes I was the first one to announce them and here is
what we are going to do about them.”

That chapter in Washington election history exposed weak points in the state’s
voting system. Reed spent the last eight years attempting to
strengthen it, including introducing a vote-by-mail system last year.

By Joe Henke, News21


Early exit polls indicate high union turnout in Wisconsin

Union households could make up about one-third of the voters in Tuesday’s recall election, according to the Washington Post, and if that figure holds up, it would be the best showing for unions in Wisconsin in eight years.

Gov. Scott Walker led the effort to limit the collective bargaining rights of union workers last fall, and public worker unions have pushed back, with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporting eight out of 10 voters Tuesday either strongly approve or strongly disapprove of the way Walker addressed the issue.

Polls suggest Walker still has the edge, according the Post, but if union turnout, as well as increased day-of registration in Madison and Milwaukee, bolsters support for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democrat could close the gap.

By Annelise Russell, News21

Wisconsin Recall: Midway Update

Voting in Wisconsin’s gubernatorial recall election is underway and the polls will remain open until 8 p.m. CDT, but here’s a quick look at trends at the polls this morning:


Alabama NAACP leader talks about struggle to motivate voters

Alabama NAACP leader talks about struggle to motivate voters

Steve Branch is the Alabama state chair for voter registration. Photo by Khara Persad/News21

Steve Branch, the NAACP voter registration chairman for Alabama, is committed to getting voters out of their homes and into polling places, he said, but the challenge for the civil rights organization is convincing people that their votes can make a difference.


“We’re trying to get our people to vote not only in general elections, but in primaries and in anything else that comes up,” Branch said. “We’re trying to get into an election habit.”
It’s an uphill battle, Branch said, because many voters are apathetic and don’t believe that voting matters.


“I have to say to people, ‘Listen, you have to look at the vote as far as what’s happening in your community. You can change the county commissioner. You can change the circuit court judge. You may be able to change your county sheriff – people who are oppressing you. You can change this to work in your favor,’” Branch said.

By Jack Fitzpatrick and Khara Persad, News21

Countdown to Wisconsin recall

A race that is being called the most important until the November
presidential election has brought national attention to Wisconsin.  Tomorrow’s recall election pits Republican Gov. Scott Walker against his 2010 Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.  Walker, who has raised raised roughly $30 million, has been applauded and chided for his fight to dismantle the
collective bargaining rights of public workers in Wisconsin. He could
become the first governor in the state’s history and only the third
in U.S. history to be recalled.

Barrett, a Democrat, could win the gubernatorial prize he sought in 2010.
His campaign hopes to motivate minority voters who supported then-presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008 but stayed home during the 2010 state contest.

Both political parties see the race through a national lens with
implications for November. A Walker win could buoy Republicans
nationally, the Tea Party movement in particular. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty campaigned for Walker. Barrett, whose been behind in many polls, but got a boost last week with a
solid debate performance against Walker and a campaign stop Friday by former President Bill Clinton.

It’s high stakes for both sides, including a virtual army of union members, poll
watchers and other activists.

Follow us at @khantasha, @AJVicens and @WhoCanVote for
updates from Wisconsin throughout today and election day.

By AJ Vicens and Natasha Khan, News21

Countdown to Wisconsin recall