Home  >  Nebraska  >  Nelson Calls For Federal Probe Of Closed Polling Places

Nelson Calls For Federal Probe Of Closed Polling Places

By   /   April 11, 2012  /   News  /   22 Comments

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.

As Nebraska Watchdog has reported state law prohibits officials from intentionally sending out documents they know are incorrect.

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, joe@nebraskawatchdog.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


Joe formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • M. Bamesberger

    Thank you, Senator Nelson.

    How is this possible? Are there no laws to protect the citizen’s right to vote?

    For years, I have voted in my neighborhood at the elementary school.

    Why would the power to arbitrarily close polling places reside the hands of this one man?

  • Janet Poley

    Senator Nelson —-

    We are very thankful for your strong action on this. I couldn’t believe this was happening in Nebraska. Federal action is warranted. We will all be watching to make sure that the people responsible are dealt with appropriately.

    Jan and Jeff Poley

  • Jazzee

    OH shut up Ben…many of us had our places changed grow up for goodness sake………….mail in a ballot….gee you might have to make an effort to vote

  • ricky

    When the U S Justice Department comes into Nebraska to investigate, maybe they will try to connect the state of Nebraska’s attempt to suppress voter turnout (voter ID bill) while at the same time Mr Phipps was closing polling stations in Omaha.

    And maybe Justice can look into any communication between Governor Heineman, Mr Phipps and any Senators pushing the Voter ID bill. Perhaps ask Senator Lautenbaugh, himself a former Heineman appointee at the election commissioners post here in Omaha and one who defended Mr Phipps on the floor of the legislature, if he was communicating with Heineman and Mr Phipps.

    And if I were the Gov, Mr Phipps, or any state senator involved in a potential conspiracy, I would NOT destroy any emails or phone records. That would make things worse.

    ricky from omaha

  • James

    Ben is … Wow, I can’t come up with a nice word here…

    I should complain too. My polling place changed too. I am in West Omaha. Closer to my house too.

    Oh woe is me what ever shall I do?

  • Dirt

    This is a serious issue and Ben raises good points in his letter. The state has already neglected to take action and there are federal protections preserving the right– not the privilege but the RIGHT– to vote. When the state is AWOL on something like this, who else is there to turn to?

    MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow presented a theory last year that the real reason state-level Republicans across the nation were making so much noise about state budget crises and needing to cut government was to provide political cover for their real objective– passing voting laws that disenfranchise or suppress voting blocks that tend to vote for Democrats. I don’t necessarily agree with the theory but must admit when I look at this situation I see some uncanny parallels to that one. Phipps cut offices to save money, but now all of a sudden he’s spending all that was saved and thensome? Talk about contradictory.

  • Patrick

    This doesn’t look good for Tweedle dumb and Tweedle dave.

  • SoWhat???

    Here we have a disgraced soon to be ex-Senator who is trying to build some legacy on his way out the door. The real lefties hate him, the conservatives hate him, folks in the middle hate him so what’s left? He has to try and save some reputation in North O among the race baiters and the Black Panther Party types. The idea that there is some grand plan to suppress poor minority Dem voters is amazing in its stupidity. Our local Dem mayor will even provide bus rides and the promise of potential jobs to homeless folks to get them to vote. The Obama campaign will spread around plenty of GOTV in North O like in 2008, so there will be plenty of ways for otherwise challenged folks to vote for Dems.

  • John

    Too bad. He didn’t care when we were upset about his vote on Obamacare. Get over it Ben.

  • outrageous

    Thank you Mr. Nelson. Finally a voice of sanity.

    To all those who live in West O….try being a single parent living in poverty (maybe relying on public transportation) who might need to schlep along two or three kids on your walk or bus ride to your new polling location.

    Please. Facts are: Republican lackey reporting to KIng Dave changed polling stations, all in the name of money savings, without EVER CONDUCTING A PUBLIC HEARING!!!!!!

    Lets see Phipps documentation re: money savings. Oh yeah, there are no documents cause Mr. Phipps is just the yes man to King Dave. Maybe Sen. Nelson will be our next “republican appointed Election Commissioner” who reports to no one, JUST MISMANAGES OUR TAX DOLLARS!!! No worries, the tax payers will just pick up the tab for decisions made in a vacuum.

  • RuralTaxpayer

    Well, damn . . . . I have to drive about 25 MILES to go to the polls to vote, and I have to load up my car with kids, AND I have to go to the vet to get supplies for my husband, AND I have to go to the grocery store to get my weekly supply on Tuesday INSTEAD of Saturday when I could go by myself!!!!

    But am I writing in to complain? NO, I am making the point that voting is important enough to me that I am willing to do ALL OF THESE THINGS in order to take my civic duty seriously OR I could order an absentee ballot and mail it back by the deadline! And why do I make the effort when it seems there are so many reasons not to? BECAUSE I want to be a responsible citizen of this country!!!!!

    I am so sick and TIRED of hearing the whining that is coming out of Omaha because their polling place has changed!!!! BOO HOO!!!! You make me want to throw up!!! What is the BIG DEAL???? Either you CHOOSE to go to the new polling place OR get an absentee ballot!!! And if you want to vote at the polls and you are worried about where you should go, pick up your damn phone and call someone who can VERIFY where you need to go! How HARD can it be??

    It is no wonder this country is in such a horrific mess when we have a significant number of our population that can’t even find their backsides if they used both hands!!!!

  • watchdogfan

    Rural, I am not sure if you know how your comment sounded. It sounds very condescending. Instead of coming off as snooty maybe you should say you are thankful that you have a car that takes you on your 25 miles to the poll. Thankful you have the means to pick up vet supplies. Alot of people do not have that option. Families are struggling just to have healthcare. My daughter must wait 60 days for her insurance to take effect and then it is 800 dollars a month for family coverage. So I guess any vet supplies or visits would be out of the question. And dang having to go on Tuesday instead of Saturday. Families wish they had that problem. Some struggle to even provide food for their familes. You state you are not complaining. Well, then why did you state it? I think the problem with our country is the mindset of people like you. What happened to compassion? I think instead of your rant judging people you should be thankful you are so blessed. Peace to you

  • RuralTaxpayer

    Watchdogfan . . . Since apparently you missed the real point of my statement, all I was saying is if I can make the effort to get to the polls and I have to go 25 miles ONE WAY, surely there is a way for someone IN Omaha to get to the polls either by public transportation or calling the Democratic party who routinely supplies transportation to those in need!!! And if neither of those two options work out, it is EASY to get an absentee ballot!!! So what has any of this to do voter discrimination or voter disenfranchisement, etc??????

    Sometimes the truth hurts!!! Peace to you, too!

  • outrageous


    You just don’t get it. Sure pack up the SUV and make the 25 mile trek to run your errands. Sounds good. You got cash, a job, health bennies and the rest. Your suburban or rural Leave It to Beaver lifestyle lends itself to planning….but for some in our community:

    Its a true struggle to keep a roof over their heads, violence (as in shootings, the drive by variety), moving frequently, little to no job opportunities in some parts of Omaha (North and South) and unemployment can be much higher than what is quoted as the statewide average. KIds graduating, yeah graduating, illiterate with no real skills, unable to even fill out a job application. Parents of said kids are working minimum wage jobs trying as hard as they can to pay the bills and feed their kids. Some months, the phone bill might not get paid, other months, the utilities might get shut off. Going an extra couple of miles to vote can be tricky….especially if your voter registration is not up to date as you might have moved four times in the past 6 months to try to find a safe, clean place to live that you can afford.

    Try walkin the 25 miles to your polling place…after moving four times in 6 months to escape violence….

    Get a clue. Not everyone is living the lifestyle you lead. Poverty in our state is real. Especially in North and South Omaha. Creating obstacles to vote is wrong. Changes which result in mass closings of polling stations deserve a public hearing. People deserve to have input into this basic, fundamental right. Mr. Phipps needs to be held accountable for the mismanagement of our tax dollars as well as his efforts to disenfranchise portions of the Douglas County electorate.

  • RuralTaxpayer

    Oh I get it . . . . YES I DO!! The days of working for what you have and being proud of what you accomplish are long gone. Now if you work hard and are able to take care of yourself, the do-gooders of society do their best to make me feel guilty because there are those who are “less fortunate” . . . . “less fortunate” is where I came FROM and I plan on doing whatever it takes not to go back. I learned early in life “if you don’t work, you don’t eat!” and if you want out, you have to get a good education, and work HARD to raise yourself up and press on; you are accountable AND responsible for the choices you make. Success or failure rests on your OWN shoulders, not someone else’s! Either you feel sorry for yourself and expect others to take care of you OR you do what it takes to do better for yourself – NO ONE can do it for you!

    Am I sorry there are those who have to live from paycheck to paycheck? H*LL yes . . . most all of us do!!! However, I know from experience that you can’t help someone who refuses to help themselves! Are you saying that because someone is in a difficult situation they shouldn’t have to follow the rules? That is EXACTLY how we got into this mess!!!

  • BkDodge42

    For those who are complaining about the number of polling places that have been closed, just get a hold of the map of precincts and look to see that the number of precincts have been reduced. That was based upon a bill that passed in the Unicameral last year. Those who voted to allow larger precincts are now complaining the loudest.

  • http://loganet.net resistwemuch

    Dirt: I started to read your posting, but when I got to the part where you cited Rachel Maddow as some kind of authority on the issue I quickly moved on. Next you will be citing Bill Maher, K. Olbermann, Colbert, Stewart, Jesse Ventura and Oprah as expert sources of voter ID laws. If I was you I would turn to Al Franken since Gaffe Machine Biden has just cited him as an expert on constitutional law. Start to think for yourself instead of reguritating all the socialist/marist/progressive democrat sound bites you get from all the Soros funded programs/websites.

  • Jazzee

    Resist: I couldn’t have said it better thank YOU

  • What!?

    This is so much B@ll Sh*t! Phipps was trying to do what Ben Nelson NEVER did – – – – – – save the TAXPAYER some money. Nelson has only TAKEN from the taxpayer: reminders for those who forgot; his FREE Senate healthcare, his failing to pay the correct amount of taxes on his cabin on the river, etc.

    My guess is that many of the complainers DON’T pay taxes and only take, like Ben.

  • http://loganet.net resistwemuch

    Ben also took several free turkeys from the Games and Parks Commission to stock his 40 acres on the Platte. According to

    Ben they just had a few extra they couldn’t use from other areas they were stocking.

  • Jazzee

    to all the whiners and crybabies just get a mail in ballot and grow up!! wow a few more blocks to vote big deal …this is another bogus issue provided to us by ben gray and his group of idiots voting is your responsibility do it or shut up the only people we should accommodate are the elderly…other than that I am sick of the crybabies…by the way I believe the legislators had a say in this new system so go complain to them

  • Pingback: | Missouri News Horizon