There is a big hole in Douglas County voting.
If residents in Ben Gray, Chris Jerram and Garry Gernandt’s east Omaha districts registered and voted at the same rate as Thomas Mulligan’s district in northwest Omaha, there would be an additional 35,000 votes – enough to make the difference in every city, state and federal election held in the last 20 years.
There are 83 days left until Election Day, Tuesday November 6, 2012, but only 65 days left to register to vote -- Friday, October 19. Here’s a sample of voter registration efforts in Douglas County.
Register by Mail, NOW - Oct. 19
A voter registration form must be postmarked by Friday, October 19, which is also the last day to register at the Department of Motor Vehicles, through a deputy registrar, at the library or through an agent dropping off a registration form at the Election Commission.
Voters who are registering by mail for the first time in Nebraska are required to also send a form of identification such as a current valid photo ID, a current utility bill, a bank statement, a paycheck, a government check or other government document.
There is no “Voter ID” law in Nebraska, but first-time voters will be required to show ID at the polls if they did not mail in a form of identification with their registration form. A voter who does not have ID at the polls when it is requested can fill out a provisional ballot, which will be put in a special envelope and verified in the week after the election.
Register by Going to the Election Commissioner’s Office, NOW-Oct. 26
However, an individual may register in-person until 6 p.m. on Friday, October 26 by going to the Election Commission Office at 225 N. 115th Street (three blocks south of Dodge Street.) Voters must re-register every time they change their name, address or political party.
Deputy Registrars – Help Register Voters, NOW-Oct. 4
Any Nebraska registered voter can help to register new voters by becoming a deputy registrar. Contact Deputy Election Commissioner Lisa Wise at 402-444-8683 or Lisa.Wise@votedouglascounty.com. There are 11 training classes listed on the EC website from August 15 through October 4. Three classes are held at the EC office on Wednesday mornings and 8 classes are scheduled at various libraries at 6 p.m. Participants must reserve a seat in advance.
There is no single official voter registration drive in south Omaha. Sergio Sosa of the Heartland Workers Center and Carolina Quezada of the Latino Center of the Midlands will be acting as a clearinghouse for information about where and how south Omaha’s residents can take part in the electoral process.
Look for voter registration booths during festivals at Our Lady of Guadalupe on August 24-26; El Grito (Mexican independence day) on September 15-16; and Binational Health Week in October.
Because the Election Commission’s website is only in English, and there is no Spanish speaking person on the staff specifically tasked with serving the Latino community, special volunteer efforts must be made to assist Spanish-speaking voters.
For instance, the voter registration form is in Spanish. The form to request a mail-in ballot is in Spanish. But, the ballot is printed in English. Likewise, cards mailed to voters to inform them where their polling place is located are printed in English.
Sosa and Quezada are available to help rectify this. “People can call our two agencies if they don’t know where their polling place is located. We will look it up for them,” they said. Call Heartland Workers at 402-933-6095 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Latino Center of the Midlands at 402- 733-2720 email@example.com
According to Sosa, there are 16,000 eligible voters in south Omaha who are not registered. Thirty percent of registered voters cast a ballot, but that represented only 18 percent of eligible voters. “The other strategy we are doing is an analysis of the 18 precincts, to find out where the lower and higher turnout rates are. We will get the names and addresses in those areas. When we have those maps and that information, based on that we will begin phone calls or canvassing.” Volunteers are needed for phone banks, canvassing and most urgently, to drive people to the polls on Election Day if they lack transportation.
Last Saturday, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance and the Empowerment Network held a voter summit to kick-off their voter registration efforts called “Raise the Vote!” The three organizations will organize through neighborhood churches to facilitate registration efforts this year. Contact the Empowerment Network at 402-502-5153 for information or to volunteer.
The first event will be a one-hour deputy registrar training this Saturday, August 18th at North High school at 12:30 p.m. The goal is to register at least 30 new deputy registrars and no reservation is required to attend. A person has to re-train to be a registrar every three years to remain current.
The alliance wants to register 6,000 voters during the month of September with September 9th set aside as Voter Registration Sunday when they hope to register or update registration information for 1,000 people in one day.
During the 2008 presidential election, approximately 11,500 voters were registered or updated their registration during Project 10,000 in north Omaha according to Othello Meadows who directed the effort. He discovered that phone banks weren’t effective in this community. “People thought we were scamming them when we called on the phone,” Meadows said. So he sent his staff into the streets. The paid canvassers wore green and orange t-shirts imprinted with the words “Project 10,000 Votes.” They went door to door and set up tables at grocery stores, a strategy that helped generate record turnout at the polls.
At the voter summit last Saturday, Neighborhood Alliance members Ella Willis and Terrie Jackson-Miller announced a similar strategy, specifically mentioning Phil’s Foodway,
The Market Place at 3802 N. 24th Street and Chubbs’ as potential registration sites. The Omaha Star will also be registering voters in a joint project with the League of Women Voters on the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month except for September 26. The next date is August 22 from 11 - 1 p.m. Check with the Star 402-346-4041 or the League 402-344-3701 for evening hours. Stop by on Tuesday, September 25th from 11-1 in honor of National Voter Registration Day.
American Association of University Women and League of Women Voters
Two non-partisan organizations will be hosting registration events all over Omaha between now and October 19. The League of Women Voters always responds to invitations from organizations. “We don’t solicit, but call us and we’ll come,” quipped Mary Ann Sturek, Director of Voter Services. Their website is www.omahaLWV.org or www.vote411.org.
AAUW’s effort is called “It’s my Vote Nebraska” and is headed by Zel Fairlie, who recently moved back to Omaha after decades living abroad. Sometimes, Fairlie just shows up at places where she knows there will be a crowd. Recently, she went to a nightclub in Benson and stayed until midnight, netting six new potential voters. As the election nears, Fairlie will need volunteers to help with phone banking and canvassing. Contact her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or Google, “It’s my Vote Nebraska” to find upcoming events on Facebook and Meetup.