By Chris Bowling
Ah. Yes. Breathe that fresh fall air.
There’s not a speck of snow on the ground here in Omaha and the weather’s looking unseasonably warm. I’m sure there’s no avalanche of existential fears and emotions looming over our heads, possibly pushing those of us more prone to anxiety even further into a nightmare brain zone.
Oh wait, yeah. What am I thinking.
As of right now, 164,555 people in Douglas County have cast their ballot early. Today’s the last day to cast an early ballot, and even then you’ll probably want to take it to a drop box rather than send it through the mail to make sure it’s postmarked by the right date.
OK, now that all that’s out the way let’s talk about the pandemic.
It’s not great in Nebraska. Yesterday we reported 1,124 cases on a seven-day average and the positivity rate of total specimens collected was 17.56%. The World Health Organization recommends a 5% positivity rate as a sign that things are under control.
In Douglas and Sarpy counties, cases continue climbing. Yesterday Douglas County reported 285.57 cases on a seven-day average, which outpaces the previous peak set two weeks ago.
More serious outcomes are also increasing as the state is averaging about 30 new hospitalizations and eight new deaths a day.
So maybe wear a mask before you take a lung-full of that fresh fall air.
All of this comes on the even of election day, which has become inextricably connected to the pandemic. Whether it’s trying to play down its severity, emphasizing how one side would do a better job in controlling it or touting a nearly finished vaccine (while the latter might be true, it’s estimated we won’t have it widely available until maybe next summer).
But looking off the ballot and into the ballot box, let’s talk about the role the virus will play with voters on election day.
First, the logistics.
If you’re planning on voting in person, you probably know the drill by now but make sure you’re wearing a mask, have access to hand sanitizer and are standing six feet from the person next to you in line. Even though a majority of people have likely already voted (the largest turnout in recent Douglas County history was more than 243,000 in 2016), there will be tens of thousands of people spread across the 237 polling places across the county.
While there’s been national stories of minority communities showing mistrust in early voting, especially among Black and Latino populations, past trends between more and less racially diverse areas of Douglas County have so far held steady.
In 2016 voting wards generally east of 72nd street were outvoted by their western neighbors nearly two to one. The same has so far been true. That’s not to say a large block of voters will show up to the polls in East Omaha on election day, but so far the disparities are normal.
If that were to happen, it would take place in areas already hard hit by the pandemic and voters should take extra precaution. Zip Code 68107 in South Omaha has had rates of infections multitudes higher than other areas throughout the pandemic. And with some of the lowest early voting numbers, it seems likely they’d have the highest number of people casting a ballot in person.
If you need help finding a polling place you can go on the Douglas County Election Commission’s website. If you’re registered to vote, all you need to do is show up, get a ballot and fill it out properly. Instructions on that process are also available on the county’s website. Finally, check that your ballot was received and processed on the state’s website.