As ethnic and progressive groups have galvanized in response to Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps’ decision to shut down almost half of the polling places in Douglas County ahead of this year’s elections, a quick analysis of his decisions has raised serious concerns that this is another Republican Party attempt to suppress minority and lower-income voting. Phipps, a Republican, is appointed by the governor, also a Republican, and is not elected nor accountable to county officials.

Beyond concerns about the deliberative process that led to his decision, the three largest discrepancies are the impact of cutting equal numbers of polling places across the county, the fact that Lancaster County, which covers Lincoln, will have 50 percent more polling places per capita as Douglas County, and that any budget savings from these decisions are lost in Phipp’s refusal to re-open polling places, but to instead press forward with his decision.

This paper is concerned with Phipp’s refusal to provide public information. On April 2, a formal open records request was filed at his office.

Based on data presented to the Douglas County Board, a preliminary analysis showing closed polling places and the new polling places for 2012 reveal the largest gaps for North and South Omaha and a portion of east Millard, meaning those residents will have to travel the furthest to vote. A link to the map is available here.

A quick comparison with Lancaster County reveals that with a total population of 285,407 compared to Douglas County’s 517,110, Lancaster has 153 polling locations compared to Douglas County’s 186 polling locations. That represents an average of one polling place for every 1,865 residents in Lancaster, but one polling place for every 2,780 residents in Douglas.

On March 30, Phipps publicly apologized for the closures, but refused to reconsider his decision in time for the 2012 election, instead offering to send a series of mailings, along with placing four ballot drop boxes, establishing an advisory committee and placing poll workers at old polling locations. The postage cost alone to mail out the early voting request form to 314,969 currently registered voters is estimated to be $132,287, far exceeding the cost savings projected from the poll station closings.

Have you been affected by the poll closings? We want to hear your story. Please email today.

Editor’s Note: We’ve covered conservative Republican attempts to make voting more difficult for minorities and the poor, modeled on legislation written by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. Deemed a voter suppression bill by minority and poor advocates, this measure recently failed, details in this report from the Nebraska News Service.

Voter ID bill filibustered to death

By Christine Scalora, Nebraska News Service

LINCOLN – State senators have filibustered to death a bill that would have required voters to show government-issued photographic ID at their polling places.

State senators debated the bill, LB239, on March 27 and March 28.  A motion for cloture, or ending debate, Wednesday failed by three votes on a vote of 30-16.

LB239 was introduced by Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont and prioritized by Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala. The bill, which was first debated Feb. 27, would require voters to present a driver’s license or state-issued identification card.

With an amendment introduced by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, voters who lacked the needed ID would be mailed an acknowledgement of registration card to use as identification when voting.

Janssen said he introduced the bill to “further protect the integrity and reliability of elections. Nebraskans are honest and forthcoming people.”  But Nebraskans are also not naïve in thinking that voter fraud doesn’t exist, he said.

Some opponents of the voter ID bill said it would create an impediment to voting.    

Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln, who voted against cutting off debate, said the bill would disproportionately burden certain groups of voters, such as the elderly, students and poor people. LB239 only addresses voter fraud by voter impersonation. Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton, who also voted against the motion, said she thought there was “a lot more opportunity for monkey business” in mail elections.

“Who’s to say those ballots can’t be intercepted?” she asked.

Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha, who voted against the motion, said the law would be arbitrary. “I am not advocating voter fraud, but I have yet to hear one person talk about an actual case,” he said.

After the vote, Janssen said he wasn’t done with the issue of voter fraud.      

“I think that our elections are susceptible to fraud right now and we’re not doing much about it, we’re not really doing anything about it, and I think we need to start in on that,” he said.

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