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The Douglas County elections office traditionally runs in-person classes to train local residents who volunteer as poll workers. But the elections office has canceled in-person training. The instruction has moved online, to protect the volunteers’ health.

It’s a sensible change, and one that shows the need for Nebraska election officials to strongly promote mail-in balloting this year.

Officials also need to think carefully about the public health concerns raised by in-person voting on May 12. Nebraska has already seen the shutdown of many public places, and authorities have imposed a 10-person limit on most gatherings — unfortunate but necessary steps to protect the public. Perhaps Nebraska election authorities can agree on adequate on-site health protocols to make in-person balloting on May 12 viable. But that’s a very big question mark. Several states have postponed their primary elections out of such concern.

Senior-age men and women — the group most at risk from the virus — traditionally make up a major percentage of Nebraska poll workers. In the face of coronavirus threat, the prospect of sixty- and seventysomethings working in polling places for 12 or more hours raises major concern that must be taken with the utmost seriousness.

If Nebraska elections officials do decide to go forward with in-person balloting on May 12, they will need to think through difficult options, including possible age restrictions or other limitations on poll workers.

The other main option — switching in this instance to mail-in balloting only — would require action by state officials. Current Nebraska law requires in-person voting in counties with more than 10,000 people. Waiving that requirement would be an extreme step, but extreme measures right now are commonplace. Gov. Pete Ricketts and Secretary of State Bob Evnen will discuss these matters in upcoming conversations; public health concerns must receive their full attention.

In Douglas County, residents can print out the application form for a mail-in ballot here: https://www.votedouglascounty.com/elections/2020/Primary/P20RequestByMail.pdf

In-person voting in general has great importance. But right now we’re living in extraordinary times. Nebraska officials need to take a deep breath and ponder closely what election changes are needed to safeguard the public’s health.

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