in Response to State Errors, Nebraska ACLU Mails Thousands of Voter Information Packets to Residents

Oct. 23, 2020, 10:39 a.m. ·

Voting By Mail (Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels)

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After the Nebraska Secretary of State’s office sent hundreds of erroneous letters disqualifying convicted felons from voting, the Nebraska ACLU sent thousands of voter information packets to residents with criminal records ahead of the state's in-person registration deadline.

Communications Director Sam Petto said the initiative began in the spring with a request for help from an Omaha man who was mistakenly sent a letter from the state saying he couldn’t vote due to his criminal history. In Nebraska, residents convicted of a felony lose their right to vote until two years after completing their sentence and parole.

“And so, after helping him out — his name was Wally — we wondered if this was gonna happen to other folks, or if it had happened to other folks,” said Petto. “We requested the list of everyone who received a disqualification notice.”

The Secretary of State’s office responded with a list of over 6,000 Nebraskans who were sent suspension notices over the past 3 years, according to Petto. After hiring a third party to look through around half of the list for discrepancies, the ACLU determined nearly 300 residents were incorrectly told by the state that they couldn’t vote.

The state promised to assess the situation.

“We were worried that it would take too much time to get some communication out to folks,” Petto said. “So in tandem with the mass mailing to county jails, which we also did in the primary, we sent voting rights packets out to the addresses of people who had received these disqualification notices,” he explained.

Petto says the ACLU has mailed almost 9,000 voter information packets since the start of the initiative.

In a letter to the organization Tuesday, Secretary of State Bob Even confirmed errors were made. Of the 297 records sent to his office by the ACLU, the statuses of 51 were labeled incorrectly and have since been reverted.

“I don't want to cast any sort of judgment in terms of saying this is sweeping or widespread,” Petto said, “but we need to take every single instance of miscommunication or mistake when it comes to voting rights very seriously.”

Evnen says the state took numerous steps in response to the ACLU’s concerns, including drafting changes to online voting information. His team will also consider providing additional guidance to counties regarding voting rights of convicted felons.