Americans have never let national emergencies stop us from holding elections. Wars, pandemics, economic collapses — as terrible as those challenges were, balloting still proceeded so that American democracy might live. So it will be this week as Nebraskans express their political will in the 2020 primary.
The latest national emergency is, of course, COVID-19. It’s brought upheaval and trepidation to our country. But we can take comfort that it will not shatter our nation’s commitment to rule by the people through expression at the ballot box.
The historical example of the Civil War is directly relevant to our current situation. In 1864, our country faced its greatest obstacle to holding a national election. Could a legitimate presidential election be held that year, people wondered, when the conflict had drawn such enormous numbers of Northern men into military service?
The answer was yes, for two main reasons. First, because President Abraham Lincoln insisted that the election proceed, even though his re-election chances were weak until quite late in the election season. Second, because the nation adopted a system of large-scale absentee voting for the first time, to enable Northern servicemen to participate.
“The Civil War soldier vote set a precedent for what we now take for granted: that anyone who is away from home can vote,” says scholar Jonathan W. White. “You still retain that right of citizenship even if you’re not able to be at the ballot box on a given day.”
And so it is now in Nebraska. A tremendous number of voters have cast mail-in ballots — a wise move, given the ongoing virus threat. Many Nebraskans have already returned their ballots. If you haven’t, it’s important to get your mail-in ballot to a dropbox before polls close Tuesday night. In Douglas County, the website for the Election Commission has a listing of local dropboxes. Voters should be sure to sign the envelope on the back in order for their ballot to be counted.
Gov. Pete Ricketts has insisted that in-person balloting move forward on Tuesday. Nebraskans who decide to vote in person should wear a mask and use social distancing, for the sake of themselves and poll workers. Election officials have changed many polling places this year due to the virus situation, so voters should check on their correct polling location before voting on Tuesday.
We’ve commented on several local items appearing on the May 12 ballot:
» Omaha street bond. The $200 million proposal would create, for the first time, a sound, adequately funded long-term plan to meet the city’s street needs. The construction would give a powerful boost to employment and economic vitality at a time when they’re greatly needed. Passage of the bond would enable Omaha to finally set its road repairs and maintenance on a dependable cycle.
» Millard school bond. The Millard school board has developed a fiscally responsible strategy to meet the district’s long-term maintenance and school security needs.
» Dana Blakely and Beth Morrissette for Westside school board. These two incumbent board members have shown strong leadership and commitment. They’re well deserving of reelection.
We’re living in the coronavirus era, but let’s exercise our right to vote, keeping American democracy healthy and vigorous.