Omaha World-Herald. May 31, 2020.

We can trust the outcome of mail voting, as Nebraska’s primary shows

Let’s be clear: Voter fraud in the United States is rare. No data-supported evidence suggests that it is anything other than extremely unusual.

Study after study since 2000 from a range of sources debunk claims of widespread voter fraud. Arizona State University, Dartmouth College, Columbia University, Harvard, the Republican National Lawyers Association and others have conducted analyses that find few instances of such fraud.

The Heritage Foundation keeps a database of convictions that the conservative think tank cites as evidence of the “existence and effect” of voter fraud and to argue against expanded voting by mail. Mostly from this century, but with an odd North Carolina entry from the 1980s, Heritage in four years of work has found 1,285 proven instances of fraud in elections at all levels. That’s 1,285 cases over more than 20 years out of billions of votes cast in national, state and local elections.

While Heritage says the database is not comprehensive, even 12,000 out of billions would not be widespread. It’s infinitesimal. The plural of “anecdote” is not “massive fraud.”

Assertions to the contrary, such as recent tweets from President Donald Trump, whose voter fraud commission was disbanded in 2018 without issuing a report, are not based in fact. Worse, they serve to erode Americans’ confidence in our system and create “doubts about the legitimacy of the forthcoming election,” says Tom Ridge, a former Republican governor of Pennsylvania who co-chairs VoteSafe, a bipartisan group calling for safe voting during the pandemic.

What we all should want is greater participation, the hallmark of a healthy democracy in which citizens have an active stake.

Nebraska had such an experience just this month, when it set a record for participation in a primary election despite the coronavirus pandemic. This was achieved by making voting easy. Nebraska’s three most populous counties mailed absentee ballot applications to registered voters, and 85% of Douglas County’s votes were sent in early. More than two-thirds of the state’s votes were cast by mail.

No one questions the integrity of those results.

It’s important to understand that the states, not the federal government, determine how elections are conducted.

The notion of elections by mail is not new or radical.

Five states — Colorado, Utah, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii — hold elections almost entirely by mail, with proven safeguards in place, along with provisions that allow people to complete ballots at voter service centers if they wish. Ballots are mailed to the homes of registered voters, as California Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered for November’s election. (Trump has erroneously tweeted that “anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there,” will get one.)

Twenty-nine other states, including Nebraska, do not require an excuse for absentee voting. It’s so easy that Nebraskans can download an absentee ballot request from the secretary of state’s website. In addition, Nebraska counties with fewer than 10,000 residents can apply to conduct elections strictly by mail.

States that vote by mail and allow no-excuse absentee voting have no more evidence of fraud than anywhere else. Heritage’s database, for example, shows eight voter fraud cases since Colorado’s law took effect in 2013. It shows two cases this century in Nebraska.

Voting by mail or easy access to absentee voting is not a partisan conspiracy. Most chief elections officers in the United States are Republicans — 27 of them, with 21 Democrats and two independents holding the remaining positions. Of the states with mail-in voting, four have Republicans overseeing elections.

We don’t advocate changing Nebraska’s election system. We applaud Secretary of State Robert Evnen and local elections officers for making it easy for Nebraskans to vote in the primary, and we express our confidence that they will take whatever steps are appropriate in November.

It is important both that people vote and that they are confident in the outcome of elections. Our leaders should foster that. They have nothing to fear.

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The Grand Island Independent. May 31, 2020.

Let Phase I begin, but be patient

With Phase I of the state’s directed health measures taking effect in Hall, Hamilton and Merrick counties Monday, many restaurants, gyms, child care facilities, salons and barbershops, massage therapy services and tattoo parlors will be reopening for business, some on Monday and others on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Some retail stores have already reopened and others will be opening soon.

But that doesn’t mean that our area is going back to “normal.” These businesses must still adhere to COVID-19 guidelines from the state.

That means that restaurants will be limited to 50% capacity and six persons per table. Bars, self-serve buffets and salad bars will still be closed. Restaurant staff members must serve food directly to customers or implement buffet orders from the customer table. Open tables will be spaced at least 6 feet apart.

There will be a 10-person limit on other service businesses, such as salons and in gyms. Child care centers will be limited to 15 children per room.

Many restaurants that are opening their dining rooms still plan to offer takeout and delivery. And that will be good enough for some of us who have gotten used to it and aren’t ready to be out in public without a face mask.

For those who do want to take advantage of the chance to eat out, some basic courtesy and patience are in order.

You may have to wait a while for an open table. Some restaurants may not be offering their full menus. Staffing may be an issue with people in more at-risk groups unable to go back to work.

This isn’t the fault of an individual server or the restaurant’s manager. It will take some time to make Phase I go smoothly and we’re not ready for Phase II here yet.

Retail stores also will be requiring people to follow social distancing guidelines, as grocery stores and other large retailers have been doing. Wearing a mask is still advisable when you go into a store where you may have to walk past another shopper.

The Central District Health Department continues to increase the number of positive cases of COVID-19 and related deaths in our three-county area. As of Friday afternoon, there have been 1,593 people who have tested positive for the virus and 53 people have died.

We need to continue to work hard to keep the virus from spreading in our communities, even as we try to open up a little and boost our economic activity.

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Lincoln Journal Star. May 31, 2020.

CARES Act hitting state’s major needs

Less than three months after the coronavirus pandemic turned the United States upside down, a new normal remains elusive for both rank-and-file citizens and elected leaders.

“There’s no playbook for this,” Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts told the Journal Star editorial board this week.

More than $10 billion in federal funds have made their way to Nebraska, with much of the money designated for particular purposes – such as stimulus checks and the Paycheck Protection Program. Even as Nebraska as weathered the COVID-19 storm better than most states, having the third-lowest unemployment, that figure of 8.3% is the highest ever recorded for the Cornhusker State.

Hence, it’s imperative these programs are wisely structured at the federal level and disbursed by the states.

Ricketts unveiled Wednesday his intent for the more than $1 billion made available to Nebraska through the CARES Act. His plan was sound, and a handful of provisions stood out:

(asterisk) An investment in rural broadband capabilities comes at the most vital possible time. With remote work and learning not as accessible in many smaller Nebraska communities as its urban areas, the $40 million investment – Ricketts said it would’ve been higher, save for the time constraints in the federal legislation – will expedite needed infrastructure for areas on the wrong side of the digital divide.

(asterisk) Given the state’s worker shortage in high-demand industries and several industries in flux, a $16 million worker retraining program provides a hand up to workers hurt by the pandemic. The sea change that will follow this pandemic will remain uncertain for some time, but the ripple effect on particular industries may expedite seismic shifts in the near future.

(asterisk) Speaking of jolts to the workforce, nothing could’ve prepared any government for the wave of unemployment insurance claims. Ricketts noted three years’ worth of claims were filed in just two months. With the uncertainty, nearly half of CARES Act funds went to that purpose – plus a similar amount for small businesses – helping ensure Nebraskans have a financial lifeline during these troubled times.

With that said, it’s unclear whether Nebraska will need all that money for unemployment claims. Any long-term economic forecast is merely a guess at this point. But a congressional proposal Ricketts highlighted, made by Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, would allow states to apply unused federal funds to cover budget shortfalls.

Given the drastic cuts that followed the 2008 recession and our ever-escalating national debt, such an idea makes sense, especially with the Nebraska Legislature set to address future budgets when they reconvene in July.

There’s no playbook for them, either, as they head into the unknown. But, given the magnitude of the challenge ahead, the more help lawmakers can have, the better off our state will be as it attempts to weather this storm.

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