Voting in Nebraska: A guide for first-timers (and, you know, all citizens)

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Kamrin Baker
DIGITAL EDITOR

Graphic by Okina Tran/the Gateway

I registered to vote a month before I turned 18 because I was that excited to get involved in politics (and I could do it from my smart phone—it was that easy). I typed in my name, address, driver’s license, and whatever other information that could easily be pulled straight from my wallet, and I became an American for what felt like the first time.

It should be noted that my mom is a social studies teacher, Leslie Knope is my greatest life role model, and the 2016 election was fast approaching –it was a no-brainer.

However, I am aware that there are people out there who don’t have the same drive and energy to be as politically engaged. I mean, it’s effort, it’s empathy, it’s education, and some of us just don’t think we have that much to give outside the corners of our schools, offices and homes.

But the thing is, our schools, offices and homes wouldn’t exist without democracy. Our lives as we know it would be flipped on their heads if we, the people, didn’t vote on the things that matter, from potholes to presidents.

I spoke with Deena Keilany—a young political expert and a senior in UNO’s political science department and the manager of Megan Hunt’s legislative campaign. Keilany is enamored with the voting process, and she knows how elaborate it can be at the beginning.

Photo courtesy of Deena Keilany

Keilany says her mom immigrated from Syria and voted for the first time in the 2016 election–an impactful and tear-filled moment in which she felt that her vote truly counted.

Since then, Keilany helps inform her mother of the candidates in her community and explains some of the complicated things that happen, anywhere from the legislative chambers to the Supreme Court (RBG-dissented, usually).

Knowing this, I figured Keilany would be a wonderful source to answer some of our most pressing questions. Many of UNO’s underclassmen are just now eligible to vote in the upcoming midterm election, and while the tip-toe into democracy can seem intimidating, especially in light of recent political events, voting is still a fairly simple process in which we should all be fluent.

That starts here.

First of all, why is it important to vote in local and special elections (a.k.a. not just presidential)?

When I was a kid, I genuinely thought the only election that existed was for the president. I remember watching Obama be inaugurated in fifth grade–my teacher wheeling in a dinosaur of a television so we could have a history lesson. Then, I started learning more. Why did my mom wear an “I Voted” sticker so often? I could have sworn this dude had at least two more years, right?

Welcome to local elections. They “affect you, your neighbors, everyone around you that you interact with on a daily basis,” Keilany says.

While we can pick our senators, Congress representatives, and mayors, we also select certain laws and policies that set a precedent for our neighborhoods and cities. This means we decide on things like public power, environmental sustainability, health and sex education, school board members, and more.

“Public service commissioners are constantly communicating with DC,” Keilany says. “The state’s perspectives and needs are communicated through these people. Some people aren’t sure how a single vote matters, but right now, it’s coming down to two people deciding on Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation. These are things that will affect our legal world—our lives—for generations to come.”

Cool, so now we know how important voting is. How do I register to vote?

A Google search can answer these questions faster than most professionals and teachers can–especially if your location services are turned on. (But still ask your teachers and professionals for help!) Nebraska.gov has an extension so you can register right from your smart phone. All you need is a valid ID, and a birthday that shows you turn 18 by the date of voting day.

Right now, you can even go to the Gateway’s main page, click the “Register to Vote” sidebar, and get to it. Also, double check to make sure you’re registered.

You can also register via mail, so if you don’t have access to the internet (but definitely hit up your local library for help there, too!), there are options for you.

Or you know, go do it now. Just make sure that if you want to vote in the Midterms on Nov. 6, you need to be registered in Nebraska by Oct. 9.

Do I have to register with a party?

Keilany says not necessarily. “With Nebraska, it’s not necessary,” she says. “Even if you don’t register with a party, you can still even vote in a primary. That’s a common misconception. If you’re registered as an independent or non-partisan, you can request a Democrat or Republican ballot.”

So, how do I find my polling place? And what do I bring on election day?

Again, easy as pie–or a Google search. This website will take you to a search bar where you can type in your house number and zip code. Then they will tell you where to go, give you an address, and maybe even a picture of your public space.

As for necessary supplies, Keilany’s got you covered. “The Nebraska Unicameral has not passed any ID laws, so we don’t have to bring anything,” she says. “All you have to do is register beforehand.”

In addition, you can also get an absentee ballot if you will not be able to reach your polling place the day of the election. This also goes for students who are not Nebraska residents but want to vote in a midterm election in their home state.

You must apply for an absentee ballot before the desired deadline, from there you can vote by mail in your desired election. The website with all of this information is right here.

Wait, Nebraska Unicameral? What’s that?

Nebraska’s legislature is a very unique set-up in our country. Contrary to the run-of-the-mill bicameral legislature, Nebraksa only has one chamber, which Keilany says has its pros and cons.

“The Unicameral eliminated the need for conference committees, but there is a lack of accessibility in a lot of instances,” she says. “You only have one representative, and they’re in charge of a large constituency.”

Nebraska hasn’t always been like this; it became a Unicameral thanks to the efforts of George Norris in 1937—which means our legislative chambers have been nonpartisan for that long, as well.

At least, it’s labeled as nonpartisan. Sometimes, the governor has other plans, but that’s for you to decide as a voter.

“It’s a nonpartisan ticket,” Keilany says. “You won’t be able to see the person’s party, so you can have two Republicans or two Democrats running in the same race, which can be really good for party growth and development. It shows what kinds of qualities you’re looking for in a candidate.”

Cool cool cool. So how do I know who I want to vote for?

That one is up to you and might take a little more individual research, but Keilany recommends Ballotpedia as your first plan of action. Ballotpedia is a website dedicated to giving you the rundown on your candidates (and incumbents), as well as answering some FAQ’s about voting (in case I don’t do a good enough job.)

“You can see what they’ve voted on in the past, how they’ve been rated by interest groups like the NRA and Planned Parenthood, how you can access their website, and more,” Keilany says. “Some will also be active on social media and you can directly reach out. If your interest is really piqued by a candidate, you can request some swag like a yard sign or bumper sticker and show the world who you’re voting for.”

You can also read your local newspapers and news websites to see how candidates have been covered, interviewed and debated by the press and the public. The Gateway has featured both Congressional candidates, and the Omaha World-Herald has reporters who quite literally live to tell you how your politicians feel—and vote.

Read our Q&A with Don Bacon here, and our Q&A with Kara Eastman here.

In the end, you are the only one who can decide who you want to vote for, but Keilany says your candidates are also responsible because it depends on how accessible they are and how they may represent your interests in a race.

A few more tips:

-Polls in Nebraska are open until 8 p.m. As long as you are in line, you can vote. Don’t let someone try to get you to leave, or say you are too late before that time.

-If you are voting at a school, try to avoid the times school starts or ends for the easiest in-and-out vote.

-Encourage your friends to vote, too! Even if you don’t agree on a political ideology, you have the right to vote, and throwing that away is apathetic, and honestly, you don’t really get to complain if you don’t make your feelings known. If you know someone who needs a ride to the polls, take them! Lyft is also offering 50% off rides on election day.

-If you need assistance due to disability (or any other factors), ask your poll workers for help. They work there for a reason, and you have every right to be there and to use the voting equipment just as any other citizen.

-If you make a mistake voting, tell your poll workers. You can get a replacement ballot and your other will be discarded.

-You can report voting fraud (and DEFINITELY SHOULD) by calling the Division of Elections at 877-868-3737.

-Lastly, take pride. Keilany says it best: “One thing to look forward to is the I Voted Today sticker. Take pride in the democratic process here. There are so many countries in the world occupied by people who don’t have this privilege. We have a lot of say in what happens to our country—if we are apathetic, we erode that democracy. We want to do everything to protect it.”

Graphic by Okina Tran/the Gateway

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