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.”
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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