Nebraska voter turnout of 67 percent falls below predictions

Story by Grant Muessel, NewsNetNebraska

Voter turnout in Nebraska on Election Day was reported to be 67 percent, higher than four years ago, but below the wishful prediction of the Secretary of State.

Secretary of State John Gale was expecting 71 percent, a significant leap from the 62.9 percent recorded in 2008, the last presidential election.

One of the first precincts to report, Arthur County, showed a turnout of more than 79 percent. In 2008, 77 percent of Arthur’s registered voters made it to the polls. Thomas, another small Nebraska county, also reporter turnout in excess of 79 percent.

Nebraska election commissioners hoped the state’s recent increase in absentee ballot requests would be an indicator of eventual turnout. While early voting requests saw an upswing in Nebraska this year, Secretary of State spokeswoman Laura Strimple said that increase may be misleading.

“You just never know how many people show up to the polls,” she said. “Early voting is not necessarily reflective of what the total voter turnout will be.”

The Secretary of State’s office arrives at its projected percentage of voter turnout by canvassing county commissions, inquiring about new registration figures and early voting. Based on what the office discovered this year, it expected to see a turnout of 71 percent, about 8 percent higher than the 2008 election.

In the 2008 presidential election, Nebraska’s 62.9 percent voter turnout ranked in the bottom half of surrounding states. Out of 1,157,345 registered voters in the state. 811,923 of those registered voted in the last presidential election.

This year, like the Secretary of State’s office, Lancaster County Election Commissioner Dave Shively estimated 71 percent of voters would find their way to the polls. In reality, that number was 67, matching the statewide total.

Of Nebraska’s 811,00-plus votes, 174,219 — or 21 percent — were early votes. The number of early votes actually slipped to 16 percent of Nebraska’s votes in the 2010 general election. Shively estimates that numbered jumped up to 25 percent of votes in Lancaster County were early votes.

In Douglas County, 30,000 early voting ballots were submitted in the weeks leading up to election day, according to Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps. The Commission sent out 63,000 early voting requests. Phipps told the Omaha World-Herald he expects the early voting ballots to exceed 85,000, which would crush 2008’s total of 54,000.

Sarpy County’s record for early voting already had been broken with more than 21,000 early-voting ballots already being requested or submitted. The Sarpy County Election Commission expects nearly 4,000 more.

Three other Nebraska counties have already surpassed previous records of early voting , and Shively said he expects Lincoln’s early ballot total to exceed 2008’s total of about 29,000.

For the latest updates on voter turnout, see this Secretary of State election results page.

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