Why Was No One At The Polls in Morrill County?
Leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, Kathy Brandt and her crew of four in the Morrill County Clerk's office were busy. It was the same story on Election Day, but they were joined by a large group of volunteers.
Brandt, her employees, and the volunteers counted and verified the ballots just like every other county with just one difference; not a single poll was open in Morrill County.
The county is made up of Bridgeport, Bayard, Angora, Broadwater, Redington, and the surrounding areas. Thanks to mail in ballots, 71% of registered voters in this rural county managed to cast their ballot in the 2018 midterms.
Brandt said that’s much higher than voter turnout in previous elections. Only 28% of voters turned out in the primary election. In the 2016 general election, a presidential election, only about 50% of voters cast their ballot.
Less than 10,000 people live in Morrill County. State law allows for the Secretary of State to approve an all-mail-in ballot system for counties of that size. Brandt said the mail-in ballot system is a proven success.
"It gives people no excuse not to get to the polls,” Brandt said. “They have a ballot in their hand. The postage is paid on the envelope to return to us. All they have to do is: vote it, put it in that envelope, seal it up, and get it in the mail or deliver it back here to the courthouse."
Brandt said she and others at the Morrill County Clerk’s Office had to do extra leg-work because of the system. In addition to buying enough envelopes, stamps, and labels, Brandt and her team even went to the Bridgeport, Bayard, and Redington post offices to pick up last minute ballots before they were mailed to North Platte to be sorted.
To be counted, all ballots needed to be delivered to the Morrill County Elections Office before 7pm on November 6th just like any polling place. The post mark date is not taken into consideration.
When compared to other voting options, Brandt said the mail-in ballot system is just as safe as the paper ballot system. The returned envelopes are sealed, signatures are checked against voter registration papers, and all ballots undergo the proper counting and canvassing procedures paper ballots undergo at the polls.
Counting this year was a little slow. Brandt said it had nothing to do with the ballots, however, and everything to do with write-ins. Greg Schmall, Bayard’s mayor elect, was a write-in candidate for instance. Every time a ballot contains a write-in, the counting machine spits the ballot out.
Then, a volunteer ensures the write-in vote is counted. The Official Canvassing Committee also must sign off on the validity of the write-in candidate. "And so that took longer, which we knew that would happen," said Brandt.