Clearly upset with Governor Dave Heineman, Secretary of State John Gale and Election Commissioner Dave Phipps, Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) is calling for a federal investigation into possible “voter suppression” involving those closed polling places in Douglas County.
In a letter (see below) to U.S. Attorney Eric Holder, Nelson today cited “a series of disturbing actions” which according to Nelson “adversely affect those residents living in predominantly minority and low-income communities who wish to vote” in the May 15 Primary.
In what he has called a money-saving move Phipps, who was appointed Election Commissioner by Heineman, recently closed nearly half of the county’s 352 polling places and refused to reopen them despite objections by several grass roots groups.
After the closings Phipps compounded the problem when he knowingly sent out wrong polling information to some 2,000 voters.
In an interview with Nebraska Watchdog, Phipps denied any wrongdoing.
Nebraska Watchdog: According to the (Nebraska) Public Records Law if you intentionally, knowingly put out false information you can be guilty of a Class 2 Misdemeanor. Did you do something illegal?
Phipps: The idea that I technically did this to confuse people or do something illegal I think is a bit farfetched. The only reason we made a change was to be accommodating to leaders in that area. We weren’t trying to mislead anyone we just weren’t able to stop the process before it could be changed.
In an earlier email to the governor’s office Gale worried than voters would be confused by Phipps’ major changes. According to Nelson, Heineman and Phipps either “ignored or rejected outright” Gale’s concerns.
Nelson adds that Gale has rejected requests by public officials and others for a state investigation.
A spokesperson for Heineman tells Nebraska Watchdog the governor is not commenting on Nelson’s request.
Reported by Joe Jordan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: to subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here
Nelson’s letter to Eric Holder:
Dear Attorney General Holder:
Recently, a series of disturbing actions were taken by the Election Commissioner for Douglas County, Nebraska, compelling me to request an investigation of that office for possible voter suppression and abridgement of residents registered to vote in the Omaha metropolitan area.
Through an article printed in the March 22, 2012, edition of the Omaha World-Herald newspaper, it was learned that the number of polling sites in Omaha had been significantly decreased without any input from the community, allegedly as part of an effort to cut costs and reduce the budget of the Election Commissioner’s office. According to reports, 166 of the 352 polling locations will be closed. Numerous requests from community leaders to reconsider this decision were rejected. Additionally, concerns directed to both the Election Commissioner and Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman by Secretary of State John Gale regarding voter confusion caused by these changes during a presidential election year were either ignored or rejected outright.
Yet, just days later, the Election Commissioner mailed out more than 2,000 voter cards with incorrect polling site information, stating that he knew the information was incorrect, but mailing the misinformation to registered voters anyway. Upon this data being made public, the Election Commissioner stated that he would send additional notices containing correct polling sites, undoubtedly causing confusion for citizens receiving the mixed correspondence just weeks before the primary election to be held on May 15. While some voters will receive the corrected mailing and act accordingly, others may think it is a duplicate mailing and will, therefore, either not read it thoroughly or simply discard it, then go to the polling site on the original, incorrect card, only to learn they are at the wrong site. And still many more may just stay home due to these confusing double mailings.
After considerable media attention and pressure from the public, the Election Commissioner has now stated that he intends to send early voting forms to all registered voters in the county, at considerable expense. Some estimates of the cost to taxpayers to implement this plan exceed the costs saved by closing nearly half of the polling locations. This raises doubts regarding his stated rationale for closing polling places in the first place – an effort to save money.
The actions taken by the Douglas County Election Commissioner are of concern to me and my constituents because they are certain to adversely affect those residents living in predominantly minority and low-income communities who wish to vote in the upcoming elections.
Despite the concerns raised by the Nebraska Secretary of State, his office has rejected requests from public officials and others to investigate these actions. As a result, I am requesting a thorough investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice of the Douglas County Election Commissioner’s Office in Nebraska on the grounds of possible efforts to suppress or deny citizens living in Omaha, Nebraska, their constitutional right to vote under the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
Thank you for your consideration of this request. I look forward to your response.
Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska