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Suttle’s Recall Fight Puts Petition Laws in Spotlight

By   /   December 13, 2010  /   16 Comments

UPDATE: Mayor Suttle Officially Notified-Can Resign or Face Recall Election (updated information in red below)

When the move to recall Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle goes to court next week, possible changes in Nebraska’s petition laws are going with it. And the changes could arguably make petition drives both easier and harder.

Douglas County District Court Judge Peter Batallion tells Nebraska Watchdog he expects to make a prompt ruling on the Mayor’s request for a permanent injunction, a legal move aimed at stopping a recall election likely to be set for January 25th. According to Batallion a quick decision will allow either side enough time to appeal Batallion’s ruling to the Nebraska Supreme Court, if they so desire.

Batallion has set aside at least two days, December 20th and 21st, for the hearing which is expected to include testimony from live witnesses and talk of dead voters making the recall grade. As Nebraska Watchdog first reported, the name of a man who has been dead five years is on the official list of petitions to recall Mayor Suttle, and the Douglas County Election Commissioner says there could be dozens more just like it.

The rule that allowed a dead man’s name to be counted is referred to as the two out of three rule (click here to see Nebraska Watchdog’s exclusive investigation). The rule allowed the Election Commission to change a living and breathing individual who is not registered to vote, into a dead person who is registered to vote which in turn became a valid signature.

On Friday during his deposition by Suttle’s lawyer, Vince Powers, Election Commissioner Dave Phipps was asked if the dead man’s name should have been counted. According to the deposition Phipps responded, “Yes, it should have been counted according to the rules given to us by the secretary of state and the attorney general.” 

The chairman of the Douglas County Democratic Party tells Nebraska Watchdog if that is the law the legislature needs to change the law. According to Mike Leahy, “This is Omaha not Chicago.”

At the same time much has been made of accusations that some petition circulators were paid for each signature they obtained, which would be a clear violation of state law. In an exclusive on camera interview with Nebraska Watchdog, Juan Baca said he was hired at an hourly wage (which is legal) but after a few days was being paid per signature. The Mayor Suttle Recall Committee denies Baca’s claim and insists no one was paid by the signature.

But some legal experts wonder what might happen to the prohibition on per signature payments if the Nebraska Supreme Court gets its hands on the case. Would the court overturn the law and allow future circulators to be paid for each name they receive? Would the state’s highest court limit fraud to those instances where a circulator pays someone, bribes someone, to sign a petition?

In the meantime at 10:23 this (Monday) morning, Mayor Suttle was officially notified by Phipps that Suttle has five days to resign or face a special recall election. Omaha City Clerk Buster Brown says at the City Council’s December 21st meeting, the council is expected to set the election for January 25th. On November 18th in an exclusive on camera interview with Nebraska Watchdog, Suttle first announced he will not resign.

Reported by Joe Jordan, joe@nebraskawatchdog.org

Editor’s note: to subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here


Joe formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • Mary Angus

    At no time should a name be changed on any document! It’s either that person or it’s not. No big mystery. The person signed for himself and should be expected to know his own name. This is ridiculous, as is the 2 of 3 rule. If I move, I’m expected to re-register. If I change my name, I’m expected to re-register. If I’m registered, I’m registered. I don’t care what kind of petition. 3 of 3 should be the rule.

  • Juan Cotez

    This is not Chicago? Hasn’t the Democrats been in control of the City for many years? Has not this Mayor and the last one done just about anything they have wanted to? Has not the City Council members, (including the current Mayor) agreed with everything with a wink and a nod? Gee, it seems like the windy city to me. I guess we need a change in Mayors, huh?

  • Jidette

    Most legal experts agree that the Nebraska law that requires any payments for signatures to be by-the-hour vs. by-the-signature to be unconstitutional (U.S. Constitution) – hence unlawful. Such “hourly” law are rightfully determine to be attempts to handicap the petition process via unlawful restrictions on political speech.

    The 2-of-3 rule sounds crazy. Is it required by Federal law?

  • Danielle

    I actually agree with the democrat chair that if that is the law it needs to be changed. Now, I just wish people would realize this is not Phipps fault. He was following the law.

  • Icon

    SUTTLE REDUX!! Not to get off the subject at hand but WHERE WERE the CITY SALT TRUCKS salting the many hill streets intersecting dangerous areas in the city Saturday. Just curious if the city can be sued if a car slides onto a busy street & get creamed?? The mark of a PROFESSIONAL is never to make the same mistake TWICE, Mr. Suttle!!! JUST WHERE WERE the SALT TRUCKS HIDING OUT????

  • frank

    The day when politicians can lie and get away with it are swiftly coming to an end. Suttle says Fahey didn’t tell him how bad things were, then recall Faheys ass also. No more BS…now if we can just get rid of all those stupid weather crawls on the TV.

  • Melissa

    So a dead guy counts, and that’s according to the rules from the Secretary of State and media-hungry Atty Gen Jon Bruning? what a sad situation it is when common sense isn’t common – if you’re dead, you’re dead.

    Bruning is such a media-slut that he ought to get some air time if he focused some efforts on recalling that little loophole. In the meantime, it’s a shame that so much time and effort and money has to be put toward ousting Suttle, when you can clearly see that much of the problems were ones he inherited.

    And Icon – I’m sure the city salt trucks were somewhere, but Saturday was a day when it was best for most people to just stay the hell off the roads. Would the fault an accident be due to unsalted intersection or the bad judgement of the drivers who shouldn’t be out?

  • Bobby Lee

    The salt trucks? They were at Suttle’s house making sure that his SUV would not slip and slide.

  • Rich

    This is what Nebraska does …. We The People hold the elite powers that be in check through the petition process and then they come in and change the rules making it harder the next time..The legislature does it everytime. Just watch Suttle, and Assford (typo) I mean Ashford will try to push a full repeal of the recall process in the legislature.

    Suttle needs to man up and face the VOTERS.

    I’m with Frank…NO MORE Bull#?*t !!!

  • Jim J. Enright

    The people have every right to retire a mayor who tries to impose onerous and intolerable taxes on an already over taxed citizenry. (Omaha is #10 highest taxed city in the nation.) The next mayor will know better than to dare raise taxes in Omaha. Maybe even the lavish spending school districts and the Learning Community will get the message. (OPS spends $15,200 a year per pupil and is still one of the worst school districts in the nation for disadvantaged students, with declining test scores.also.)

  • Danielle

    Melissa: The election commissioner did not know the guy was dead. Period. And the SOS rules and AG ruling do not say you count a dead person. Re-read all of the articles to find out about the 2 out of 3 rule. A guy signed his own name to an address. The EC checked it. The gender, address and last name were the same, but a different first name. So the EC counted it and changed the first name so it matched. They had to do that because it matched at least two qualifications. The name they changed it to was listed as active on the EC voter files.

  • leslie

    Mary Angus has it right. I think there is ample reasons that all of these names should be verified! Make sure all are real people, make sure all are living, make sure they signed for themselvesm etc… Phipps himself admitted there may be others that are deceased on the list. His number wasn’t enough to change the recall, but what other problems exist with these names, I wonder? I think Suttle has a good fight in his hands. And the circus stars in the Recall Mayor Suttle campaign make for a good show too!

  • Rich

    …. Lincoln Senator Bill Avery wants to change the recall process all together. Huh where have I heard that before.????? Oh yeah my comment above. Time to show Avery the door and everyone else who wants to limit WE THE PEOPLES FREEDOM ! !

  • http://www.golfatindiancreek.com/leagues/leagues-details/?id=19 Ricky

    Since when can you substitute another guys name for one that is found to be invalid? When the Douglas County Election Commissioner is a Republican and the guy under the recall bullet is a Democrat.

    What a joke. Looking forward to the hearing next week and all the other dirt that will be revealed with this process.

    Ricky From Omaha

  • tdanny

    FYI: There is no provision in either Nebraska law or the State Constitution for recall of State Senators or the Governor, nor most other State officials..

  • http://www.mylivesignature.com Edmundo Onaga

    Cool. Now that’s something worth reading. Thanks for sharing it with us!