By Katy Owens Hubler
One thing we know about Nebraska is that it’s unique—its legislature is unicameral and nonpartisan, and it is one of only two states that allocates its Electoral College votes by congressional district (a bill to change that failed in the legislature last week).
Nebraska may be considering other election-related changes, though, as its Special Election Technology Committee met in Omaha on April 11.
The Election Technology Committee was established on Feb. 29 (LR403) to study the longevity of the technology used to conduct elections and the feasibility of updating or replacing the technology. A report with findings and recommendations is due to the legislature by the end of the year.
For us at NCSL this was exciting news, since we’ve also been interested in aging voting technology and the ways in which states might play a role in replacing this equipment. In fact we’ve been studying this very issue as part of our Elections 2020: Policy, Funding and the Future project.
So, we were pleased to be able to spend a day in Omaha with the Election Technology Committee, legislative staff, and state and local election officials as one of the first steps for the committee in tackling this issue.
The day included a visit to a voting equipment manufacturer as well as a discussion of the current equipment and process being used in Nebraska. A few things became clear throughout the day that the committee can continue to ponder:
- Choosing the actual equipment to be purchased is “Step 25” (as stated by the Committee Chair, Senator John Murante). Step 0 (or at least 1 or 2) is figuring out how Nebraskans want to vote in the future. Does Nebraska want to continue doing precinct-based polling place voting? Or is it headed toward alternative models that might incorporate more mail balloting or vote centers?
- Size matters; what’s right for urban jurisdictions may or may not be right for rural jurisdictions.
- The system that Nebraska buys will be expected to last for 10 or 15 years—way longer than most technology choices, like smart phones and computers. How might Nebraskans be voting in the future?
- The last time the state bought new voting equipment it was with federal funds from the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Since federal money will not be available again, what are alternative ways that Nebraska might be able to fund voting technology? Lease-purchase arrangements may be available from vendors this go-round, or counties could pool resources, or the state could take the lead in rounding up the funding.
- What are the priorities for purchasing a new voting system? A voting system can be accurate, cheap or fast, but not all three.
According to Chairman Murante, the goal of the committee is first and foremost to make elections in Nebraska more efficient. It’s an excellent goal and NCSL will be watching as the Election Technology Committee continues its work this year.
Katy Owens Hubler is a former member of NCSL’s elections team and currently consults for NCSL.