Legislative hearing on ballot boxes turns into complaint session about 2020 elections
LINCOLN — A public hearing on a bill to improve security of ballot drop boxes on Wednesday turned into a forum for alleging irregularities about the conduct of the 2020 elections.
Despite assurances from state senators and one of the state’s top election officials that all allegations of fraud had been thoroughly investigated and dismissed, members of an organization called the Nebraska Voter Accuracy Project claimed there had been widespread fraud during the election.
One member of the group, Connie Reinke of Lincoln, alleged that about 4,000 votes cast in Nebraska in 2020 could not be matched up with actual, registered voters.
Another member, Larry Ortega of Bellevue, claimed that his group had “identified dozens of people” who walked up to ballot drop boxes, “slipping in” seven to eight ballots at a time.
“What’s wrong with that?” asked State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, a member of the Legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.
She pointed out that dropping off ballots for others is not illegal and that nursing home workers routinely helped residents by delivering their absentee ballots. Other people, Hunt said, help elderly parents and grandparents vote by dropping off their ballots.
Omaha Sen. John McCollister told Reinke he had attended a slide-show briefing by Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen on Tuesday night entitled “fact or fiction,” which dispelled “undocumented” claims about the 2020 elections.
“Sorry to say, I don’t think this information is valid,” the senator told Reinke. “I think we do a great job with elections.”
Critics of election procedures, however, said Evnen’s office “wasn’t listening,” “wasn’t looking” for fraud and had “underestimated the cunning” of those committing the fraud they perceive.
Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer, who chairs the Government Committee, told those who doubted the integrity of state elections that he would arrange a meeting with Evnen to “clear the air” and get everyone in the same room “so everyone isn’t yelling at each other across a canyon.”
Wayne Bena, the deputy secretary of state for elections, said his office was well aware of the complaints lodged by those at Wednesday’s hearing. He said the complaints had been investigated and dispelled. Any meeting, he added, would have to be approved by his boss, Evnen.
The Government Committee took no action on the bill that was the subject of the public hearing after taking testimony.
Legislative Bill 1263 was introduced by Elmwood Sen. Robert Clements on behalf of the Secretary of State’s Office.
Clements and Bena said the bill was designed to put uniform standards into state law concerning such drop boxes, including security measures and daily pickups of ballots, after their widespread use during 2020 voting.
Bena said he wanted to avoid a situation like what occurred in Wisconsin, where lawsuits have led to the removal of drop boxes to collect absentee ballots because state statutes don’t allow it.
Clements said his bill doesn’t require video surveillance of ballot drop boxes because he didn’t want to impose an unfunded mandate on counties to obtain such equipment. Bena said some counties have placed video cameras at their own expense.
The League of Women Voters as well as the voter rights group Civic Nebraska testified in favor of Clements’ proposal.
Westin Miller of Civic Nebraska said that concerns about elections deserve to be addressed but that a distinction is needed between what is an “anomaly” and what is actual fraud. He said, for instance, that he had received some “official looking” mailings from out of state that had fooled him into thinking his voter registration had been cancelled.
Miller added it has also been his experience that some people, after they don’t get the answer they want from officials, claim that they’re “not listening.