Two big metropolitan area school bond elections are under way without the familiar fanfare of poll workers, voting booths and those little "I voted" stickers.
Mail-in ballots are on the way to more than 95,000 voters in the Millard and Elkhorn school districts — some are likely in voters' hands already.
County election commissioners in Douglas and Sarpy Counties mailed the ballots Friday.
Residents may fill them out and return them immediately.
Voting by mail will be a new experience for most residents but also for bond supporters and opponents, who say they'll continue to campaign with signs, mailings and door-to-door visits in hopes of tipping public opinion before the voting period closes Nov. 15.
In Millard, 74,069 registered voters will receive ballots — 62,259 in Douglas and 11,810 in Sarpy — making it the state's largest mail-in election to date. The Millard School Board has proposed a $140.8 million bond package of school repairs, classroom additions, and technology and security upgrades.
District officials have pitched the spending plan as an investment to make students safer, enhance learning and replace aging equipment. Opponents say the project list is bloated and includes what they consider amenities such as artificial turf athletic fields for Millard North and West High Schools.
Doug Ewald, chairman of the pro-bond group Citizens for Millard Public Schools, said his group will continue its efforts, though many voters will vote within a few days.
"I would expect that a lot of people will be turning them back in in pretty short order," Ewald said.
Paul Meyer, a retired corporate safety director for a trucking company who opposes the Millard bond issue, said opponents will keep up their effort to defeat the bond issue and force district officials to return with a less expensive version.
"We are passing out as many fliers as we can and posting some signs, but don't have the money of the proponents," Meyer said.
Meyer is a member of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, a tax watchdog group.
Shrinking the size of the Millard bond issue wouldn't be easy given the district's needs, Ewald said.
"Millard North needs $20 million by itself," Ewald said. "That school hasn't been touched since it was built, basically."
Steve Nichols, treasurer for the pro-bond Elkhorn Citizens Committee for Education, said he's seen only scattered opposition in his community.
The Elkhorn bond issue is primarily aimed at keeping up with growing enrollment, he said.
"When you have a thousand kids coming into the district every three years, you've got to have the resources to take care of them," Nichols said.
In Elkhorn, 20,952 ballots went out. Most of the $49.6 million from Elkhorn's bond issue would go to build two elementary schools and a middle school. The rest would provide security upgrades at all but the district's three newest schools and for various projects at older buildings, including parking lots, roof repairs and technology upgrades.
Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps said voting by mail is simple, but voters should pay attention to rules and deadlines to make sure their votes count.
"If there's one thing where people mess up, which could cause an issue with counting, it's that they don't sign the return envelope," Phipps said.
In addition to signing the envelope, voters must also supply a 44-cent stamp.
Officials aren't sure whether the mail-in election will favor proponents or opponents, but mail-in ballots have a track record of increasing turnout.
Registered voters will receive the ballot in a standard business-size envelope, Phipps said, with a return envelope and instructions.
"If people don't get their ballot within the next couple of days, they should call our office," he said.
Voters should use a pencil to blacken an oval to vote "for" or "against" the bond issue.
Ballots will be counted, and results announced, on the evening of Nov. 15, so ballots mailed the last few days of the voting period may not arrive in time — although the Postal Service has a commitment to overnight delivery in the Omaha area.
The Douglas and Sarpy Election Offices have drop boxes where ballots will be accepted until 5 p.m. Nov. 15. The Douglas County office is at 225 N. 115th St. and the Sarpy County office is at 501 Olson Drive, Suite 4, Papillion.
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