As the 2022 election approaches, the public’s perception of voter security has shifted negatively, according to Seward County Clerk Sherry Schweitzer.
This is one in a series of Nebraska News Service stories about election and voting issues in the state and the efforts of people and organizations who are working to strengthen democracy. This series is part of a national initiative — USDemocracyDay.org — in which more than 300 news outlets published stories on Democracy Day, Sept. 15, to bring attention to the crisis facing American democracy.
As the 2022 election approached, Seward County Clerk Sherry Schweitzer was getting increasingly concerned about the public’s perception of voter security.
Seward County Independent Reporter Emily Hemphill conducted a four-part interview series with Schweitzer to highlight and challenge misconceptions regarding the election process. By focusing on specific issues regarding voting, the clerk cleared up disinformation regarding elections.
“We thought it would be a good way to quell some of those rumors, to present the facts directly from the election commissioner herself,” Hemphill said.
Schweitzer has served as the county clerk for 25 consecutive years, but she’s worked in the office for 44. She also serves as the county’s register of deeds and election commissioner. As part of her job, she oversees all Seward’s primary and general elections and ensures they are conducted accurately.
The idea for the series emerged after Schweitzer contacted the Seward County Independent to talk about her concerns regarding misinformation about her job. Schweitzer said dozens of residents had reached out to her with concerns that the voting process was unsafe and potentially rigged.
Schweitzer said that seeing local political figures calling voting processes into question led to the need for organizing the series. Following the 2020 election, many officials took a stand against the outcome, saying the election was not done safely.
“It makes me sad to know that there are political figures that should know better,” Schweitzer said. “I’m an official, also, and they are disparaging other officials. Here in Nebraska, I think that officials should be trustworthy, and when they are saying these things, I think some of them are saying it just because they are the same party as the one who has brought this whole election fraud. It makes me sad that I have to protect myself.”
Contact from residents regarding voter misconceptions continues to rise. Legally, all ballots are retained by the county election official for 22 months following the election. That date for the 2020 election was Sept. 3 of this year and in the last two weeks alone, Schweitzer said she received more than 20 separate emails threatening litigation if records were not kept.
“We’ve gotten emails from various parties that say they want copies of this or ‘we’re going to litigate you,’ or ‘there is something in court in Tennessee and if you don’t keep all these records, we’re going to take you to court,’” Schweitzer said. “I even had someone go to our local county court, wanting to file something so that the judge would file an order to me to keep the ballot and the things I’m able to discard.”
A major point of misconception had to do with the rise of mail-in voting during the 2020 election, largely due to the rise of COVID-19.
With 78% of Nebraskans opting for remote voting, some called the practice’s legitimacy into question. Schweitzer said all drop boxes were cemented into the ground, and papers must be placed into verified envelopes before being received.
Another specific misunderstanding the series focused on was voting machines.
“People think our machine was hacked into,” Schweitzer said. “It’s only plugged into the electricity, so, unless they can hack into electrical lines, it’s not connected to the internet.”
Although there has been a rise in coverage of the voting process following the recent primary, Schweitzer said that the way elections are conducted has stayed consistent. The most significant shift in her job description has simply been a rise in transparency.
With more misinformation being spread about her job description, assuring citizens their vote is safe became more of a priority.
According to Schweitzer, considering the upcoming Nov. 8 election, the need for an emphasis on voter security rises. By contacting her local newspaper, she took it into her own hands to spread the word that citizens’ votes remain secure and important.
“I think democracy means that you should be able to go and vote and know that your vote counts and means something,” Schweitzer said. “And that you can be assured that who you cast the vote for is who got [your] vote. Election officials take it almost personally if someone thinks that we’re doing monkey business or whatever. We aren’t. We know how important it is.”
Readers can access the four-part series in the Seward County Independent here.