This is the first in a four-part series on voter education information from the Seward County Clerk.
Forty-four years ago, when Sherry Schweitzer began working in the Seward County Clerk’s office, elections were fairly run-of-the-mill.
She worked her way up to a 10-year stint as deputy clerk and has spent the last 25 years as the Seward County Clerk and Election Commissioner – an elected position – though she has assisted with elections all 44 years.
She’s used to fielding a few questions every now and then around election season, but the amount of misinformation surrounding voting has surged recently, she said.
“Since the election of 2020, there have been many rumors, misconceptions and untruths about elections,” Schweitzer said. “Never before have I felt that I needed to defend the voting process in Seward County.”
Some of the biggest misconceptions center on ballot harvesting and fraud when it comes to early voting, Schweitzer said.
Early voting ballots, known as absentee ballots, are those that are cast before Election Day.
Voters can mark their ballots at the clerk’s office, mail them in or leave them in a drop box outside the courthouse.
“Early voting is safe and secure,” Schweitzer said. “Most people don’t realize the measures our office takes to protect your vote and make sure everyone can feel comfortable that your vote is confidential.”
Schweitzer shared seven myths about early voting that she said have been circulating in recent years.
Early voting myths
1. Voting Early is full of fraud because people can stuff the ballot box outside the courthouse.
Not true, Schweitzer said.
“We have a secure system of issuing ballots and verifying when they are received back in my office. Each one is handled separately to make sure each ballot is counted,” Schweitzer said. “Some people think fake ballots can be stuffed into the ballot box, but each ballot being returned must be in an envelope that has the oath and different components on it. A piece of paper just cannot be slipped into the ballot box.”
2. Most early voting ballots are not counted and are just tossed away.
Ballots are not tossed away.
“By law, we are required to keep them for 22 months after the election,” Schweitzer said.
3. Someone can apply for ballots for many people, vote and return them and they are counted.
A person can apply for a ballot for themselves and two other people.
“This is for the parent who is obtaining one for their college-age child or a child getting a ballot for an aging parent or neighbor,” Schweitzer said.
“In each of these instances, the voter themselves must complete the information on the return envelope and sign it.
“We check signatures,” Schweitzer said.
4. Early Voting Ballots are counted a different way than Election Day ballots.
Each ballot cast is counted the same way.
“There is no difference if it is cast early or on Election Day,” Schweitzer said.
5. The ballot is looked at when the envelope is opened so voters’ choices are not confidential.
Anyone who has been in the clerk’s office on Election Night knows time is of the essence when counting ballots, which means even if one wanted to, there isn’t time to look at a voter’s choices.
“We have hundreds and sometimes thousands of envelopes to open, so we operate in an efficient manner,” Schweitzer said. “While election time is a busy time for our office, we conduct ourselves with integrity,” Schweitzer said.
Ballots are opened efficiently and discreetly by placing the envelope with the signature-side down on purpose, so workers do not know who the ballot belongs to.
Since the ballots themselves have no signature, they are quickly separated from the signed envelopes.
“We slide the ballot out and place it on a separate stack from the envelope so that the two items are never together again,” Schweitzer said. “Our office realizes the importance of confidentiality.”
6. Early ballots don’t get counted unless the race is close.
All early voting ballots are counted as long as the signature and address on the return envelope are correct. It doesn’t matter if the race is close.
“How would we know if a race is close if we don’t count all the ballots?” Schweitzer said.
7. There is ballot harvesting going on and those ballots should not be counted.
Ballot harvesting, or ballot collecting, is when one person returns ballots for several people at a time.
“We have places such as assisted living facilities where residents want to vote but can’t make it to the polling place,” Schweitzer said. “While ballots are issued to many of the residents of these facilities, an employee or family member may return ballots for several people at one time.”
The process for verifying and counting the ballots doesn’t change, though.
“Like with each early voting ballot, we check the signature and make sure the voter did actually submit the ballot,” Schweitzer said.
With the Nov. 8 General Election coming up, Seward County voters will have a multitude of offices to fill by casting their ballots – either early or at the polls.
For more information or questions about the election process, contact the county clerk’s office at (402) 643-2883.
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