High voter turnout in rural counties a credit to mail in ballots

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MERRICK Co. (WOWT) -- Turnout was one of the major storylines locally for the mid-term elections. That 56% figure of registered voters in Nebraska beats the 48% turnout four years ago.

Even in smaller counties where lines were not as long, voter turnouts exceeded projection thanks to a different approach to reach voters.

In rural Nebraska, it's hard to break away from a late harvest to get to the polls.

In some parts of the state it takes a half-hour just to get the precinct.

In Merrick County, two hours west of Omaha, the mid-term elections unveiled something new.

The election came to the people.

The county mailed a ballot to every single registered voter, all 4,659 of them.

Kent Booth from Central City thought it was a little weird to receive a ballot in the mail.

"Yeah. I didn't really expect it. I'm used to going downtown and doing the on-site thing." he said.

The goal behind mailing everyone a ballot comes down to turnout.

The county is hoping it leads to more participation. Plus, there's no more struggling to find polling place workers and precinct locations.

Here in Merrick County, in the last mid-term with all the voting booths and all the precincts were open for traditional voting the turnout was 45%.

For yesterday's all mail-in ballot the county election commissioner Marcia Wichmann was hoping for 55%.

Instead, “We got 74% and I’m tickled!” she said.

That's three-of-every-four registered voters in the county casting a ballot.

Even with record-setting early voting numbers and long lines across the state, Nebraska's turnout settled in at 56%.

Kent Booth says “It was a good turnout.”

He misses the ritual of voting traditionally; he appreciates the convenience and understands why more rural counties may sign up.

“I think that’s the future.” he said.

For election commissioners like Marcia Wichmann, the numbers are all the proof they need.

"The lesson learned -- vote. Just vote. It's your right to have your voice heard."

In the five counties that rolled this procedure out this cycle, one polling place does remains open in the county at the courthouse where the votes are counted for those who may have thrown away the ballot.

The practice will not be coming to Omaha anytime soon.

The law says only counties with fewer than 10,000 voters qualify so the law would have to change.
67 of Nebraska's 93 counties qualify.

Boone and Stanton counties are up next to give it a try.