KEARNEY — A total of 10,818 Buffalo County voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s Nebraska primary election. That number contained 8,364 early mail-in ballots, a record for a primary election, said Lisa Poff, Buffalo County’s election commissioner.
The same was true across Nebraska as voters mostly avoided in-person voting Tuesday in favor of absentee voting.
Buffalo County’s turnout was 36.26 percent, which compares with these recent primary elections:
- 2018 — 20.41 percent — 5,995 voters;
- 2016 — 29.14 percent — 8,295 voters;
- 2014 — 27.80 percent — 7,675 voters.
Voters shattered the state record for absentee voting with nearly 400,000 mail-in ballots in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, according to The Associated Press reports.
Republican President Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic challenger Joe Biden sailed to easy victories across Nebraska, the first in-person primary since a heavily criticized election in Wisconsin five weeks ago in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
Republican U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, who faced a GOP primary challenge because of his previous criticism of Trump, won easily and will face Chris Janicek, the owner of an Omaha cake-baking company, who won a nine-way Democratic primary Tuesday night.
In Nebraska’s Republican-dominated 3rd Congressional District, Rep. Adrian Smith also easily won the GOP nomination for an eighth term. Smith will face Democrat Mark Elworth Jr., who was uncontested for his party’s nod.
In a closely watched Democratic primary for an Omaha-based congressional district, voters chose progressive Kara Eastman over a more conservative candidate. Eastman once again will face Republican Rep. Don Bacon, as she did in 2018.
Officials had encouraged people to vote by mail, though Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts and Secretary of State Bob Evnen both pledged to forge ahead with an in-person primary even though many other states have rescheduled theirs or switched to all-mail voting. Voters easily broke the previous mail-in voting record of around 70,000 in 2018, which includes people who requested early ballots and voters in early rural counties who receive them automatically.
Douglas County Election Commissioner Brian Kruse, who oversees polling sites in Omaha, said in-person turnout was unusually low. He said overall turnout still was strong because of the number of mail-in ballots received, but polls saw few in-person voters.
A possible shortage of poll workers prompted Ricketts to order members of the Nebraska National Guard to provide on-call help at short-staffed polling sites in eight counties, including the Omaha and Lincoln areas. He said Guard members would be dressed in civilian clothes, not their uniforms.
Ricketts also waived a state law that requires poll workers to live in the county where they serve, largely because of a poll worker shortage.
This year’s primary was fairly low-key but included a high-profile race among Democrats who want to unseat Bacon of Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. The Omaha-area district is one of the few in Republican-led Nebraska where Democrats are competitive.
Eastman defeated Omaha lawyer Ann Ashford and Omaha business owner Gladys Harrison to win the Democratic primary. Eastman had positioned herself as a progressive, while Ashford pitched herself as a moderate. Harrison touted herself as a unifying voice but hasn’t raised nearly as much money or gotten as much attention.