Early Omaha-area turnout far outpaces typical midterm election

People get checked in prior to casting their vote at the Southwest Church of the Nazarene in Omaha.

Election 2018 in the Omaha area appears on pace to obliterate recent midterm turnout numbers, officials said Tuesday. 

Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale had a request for people planning to vote after work or in the last few hours before 8 p.m.: Be patient.

“We would just ask for everyone to be patient, because everybody will have an opportunity to cast their vote,” Gale told The World-Herald.

If lines are long, Gale urged voters not to leave and come back later. Gale also said people shouldn’t get nervous if they are in line as the 8 p.m. close of polls approaches. If someone is in line to vote at 8 p.m., he said, that person will get an opportunity to vote.

Gale had another reminder for people still expecting to vote by absentee ballot: Turn in your ballot by 8 p.m. at the local election office or an official drop box. Do not turn in those ballots to the polling place.

Douglas County Election Commissioner Brian Kruse said turnout is settling in as higher than a normal mid-term but lower than a presidential election.

He said his precinct leaders had seen Election Day turnout by lunchtime of between 150 to 200 voters in most precincts, then up to 200 to 400 by mid-afternoon.

Sarpy County Election Commissioner Michelle Andahl said she is seeing higher-than-expected turnout. Her polling places had averaged about 120 voters by 10 a.m. Tuesday. In one precinct, at Celebration Covenant Church, near 168th Street and Giles Road, more than a third of its 3,132 eligible voters had voted by noon.  

"What I'm hearing from workers is that these numbers are higher than they were in the presidential," said Andahl, who was driving around to polling places. She expected the county would exceed its projection of 53 percent turnout.

Spot checks by World-Herald reporters of other polling places showed similarly increased Election Day turnout in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

At Wakonda Elementary School in north Omaha, 196 people had voted as of noon. By 11:30 a.m., 176 voters had cast ballots at central Omaha's Good News Church. At Omaha Skutt Catholic High School, 184 voters had cast a ballot by 11 a.m. 

Nurse Elizabeth Vincent, 48, voted despite saying she didn’t find herself very passionate about most issues on the ballot.

“I still think it’s important to use your right to vote,” she said.

Before school started at Omaha's Belle Ryan Elementary School in the Aksarben area, the line of voters was already forming outside the polling place next door at St. Matthew Evangelical Lutheran Church.

By 10 a.m., the line still snaked through the basement hallway, past the supply room and nearly to the door from the parking lot bordered with political signs. Poll workers say 141 voted in the first two hours.

Some 241 people had voted at Bethany Lutheran Church in Omaha's Benson neighborhood by 10:30 a.m. Interest was also high in northwest Omaha, at Standing Bear Elementary School and at Marathon Ventures in Bellevue.

Gale reported no major election disruptions or election security problems.

Civic Nebraska, a local organization monitoring election operations and polling places, said it fielded some reports from Douglas County voters that they received only one page of the two-page ballot, or two of the same page.

The organization also said some voters were greeted in line by poll workers checking their precinct, and workers asked some voters at one polling place to produce identification — which is not required by Nebraska law. One voter reported being turned away, the group said.

John Cartier, the group's director of voting rights, said in a statement that the addition of what he called a "poll greeter" created some confusion among poll workers and voters.

Construction may have cut into turnout at the pair of Dundee-area polling places at Brownell Talbot school. Voters complained that they had trouble reaching the school with closures on parts of Happy Hollow Boulevard. The City of Omaha is resurfacing the street. The street reopened by 3 p.m.

Higher-than-anticipated Election Day turnout continues a trend of increased interest in this year's midterm elections. A record number of Nebraskans had already requested ballots to vote early. 

Gale has predicted a record statewide turnout for a midterm of 56 percent. Douglas County predicted turnout of 52 percent. Sarpy predicted 53 percent. Typically, fewer than half of Nebraska voters cast ballots in midterm elections. The most recent midterm election with more than 50 percent turnout was in 2006.

World-Herald staff writers Erin Duffy, Roseann Moring, Erin Grace and Chris Peters contributed to this report.

Sign up for World-Herald news alerts

Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.