Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale approved the Douglas County Election Commissioner's polling place restorations this week. The addition of polling places follows an unprecedented removal, far exceeding any changes in the two previous U.S. Census, after which redistricting is implemented.
From an initial cut of 88 polling places, 28 are slated to be added, leaving 208 polling places for the presidential election this fall -- a 22 percent reduction instead of 33 percent. One additional precinct in south Omaha was added after the public comment phase. A total of 70 precincts were changed, 41 in the eastern half of the county and 29 precincts in the west Omaha suburbs.
Sergio Sosa, a member of the community coalition, and Gary DiSilvestro, a member of the advisory committee appointed by the County Commissioners, couldn’t praise the final decision, but they did recognize the commissioner for appearing to listen. DiSilvestro was appointed by Commissioner Marc Kraft of District 5. “Dave Phipps made a real effort to listen to the concerns we brought to him,” he said.
As for 82-year-old Robert Wright, the voter profiled in The Reader’s cover story, his precinct might be left out of the changes, The largest precinct in Ward 2, 2-01 is in the northeastern part of Omaha near the Missouri River. Like much of north and south Omaha, 2-01 is a census tract of older residents, smaller homes and low incomes. Many of the residents do not have transportation. Yet they are currently required to drive three miles or more to Miller Park Pavilion in north Omaha if they want to vote in person. It is the longest distance anyone in north Omaha is required to drive to vote.
The reason cited for not restoring a polling place to precinct 2-01 is the inadequacy of parking and interior space at Sherman School. On the Election Commission website it states, “There are very few polling place options in this area. The shape and size of the precinct makes it difficult to find a polling place that would be centrally located.” The minister of the Parkway Church of God on 1212 East Browne Street overlooking Carter Lake has indicated to The Reader that she would be happy to have her church serve as a polling place, information forwarded to the EC. The facility has 100 parking spaces, a handicap ramp and is centrally located to the entire precinct. As of press time, it was unknown if the EC would take her up on her offer.
In analyzing the numbers of polling places changes after the 1990 and 2000 U.S. Census, The Reader found there were more than three times as many changes after the 2010 Census. From 1988 to 1992, before and after the 1990 Census, there were about 20 new polling locations out of approximately 260, with the total number remaining relatively steady. New locations occurred in 1 out of 13 polling locations. A similar change occurred after the 2000 Census. Contrast that to the changes after the 2010 Census -- 88 polling locations were cut and of the remaining 180 polls, 29 were new, meaning 1 in 6 polls were unfamiliar locations, resulting in voter confusion and frustration.
Gary DiSilvestro worries about the effect this confusion will have on the fall election. “I will be voting in my third new polling place in three elections,” he said.
The reason cited for cutting polls was to save money, but that didn’t happen this past year and most likely will not happen in fiscal year 2013. On June 20, The Reader incorrectly reported that the Election Commissioner requested an additional $50,000 to cover increased printing and mailing costs in 2012. The accurate figure is $70,000, bringing the Election Commission expenditures to $1,316,090 for 2012, an increase of $15,940 over 2011.
On July 10, the county commissioners approved the budget for the upcoming 2013 fiscal year with the Election Commission receiving $2,109,747. This figure is approximately $65,000 less than was spent on the 2008 Presidential election. However, Phipps has promised to staff each polling place for the presidential election with 10 workers to prevent long lines. More than two thousand poll workers will need to be hired this fall, approximately 600 more than were hired in 2010 when there were 268 polls with 5 workers each.
Poll workers are either drafted, similar to being selected for jury duty, or they volunteer. According to an email from Elections Manager Justine Kessler, “Registered voters can volunteer anytime to be a poll worker; however, if they would like to be considered for working the upcoming General Election, they should contact us by Monday, August 13, 2012. Some new volunteers may not be selected to work this upcoming election because we try to staff each precinct with a mixture of experienced and not as experienced workers, and we have to have a mixture of poll workers of different political parties. However, we do try to use as many volunteers as possible for every election.”
To volunteer to be a poll worker, call the Election Commission at (402) 444-VOTE (8683), stop in the office at 225 North 115 Street, or volunteer online at http://www.votedouglascounty.com/poll_worker_information.aspx