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NE: Governor’s hold over election chief in lawmaker’s sights

By   /   December 3, 2012  /   News  /   34 Comments

By Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog

Election 2012 is over but the battle for fair elections in Omaha is just warming up, and it’s likely to go all the way to the governor’s office.

SIGN HERE: Voters prepare to get ballots in Nebraska.

Nebraska Watchdog has learned that if one lawmaker gets his way, Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps — who was hand-picked by Gov. Dave Heineman — will be in jeopardy of losing his job.

State Sen. Steve Lathrop, an Omaha Democrat, is looking to strip the Republican governor’s power to appoint the county’s top election official.

The move follows months of controversy and charges that Phipps, who at one point closed nearly half the county’s polling places, was out to keep inner city voters — mostly Democrats — from casting ballots.

After an avalanche of criticism, Phipps apologized and reopened some of the voting sites. He insisted he was only trying to save money.

Lathrop, to say the least, is skeptical.

“I don’t want to accuse anyone of being incompetent or political, but I don’t know what other explanations there are,” Lathrop said.

Lathrop is still working out the details, but it appears likely he will push a bill that would either turn over the appointment power to the Douglas County Board or put the elected county clerk in charge of local voting.

IN TROUBLE: Douglas County’s embattled election commissioner, Dave Phipps

Elected clerks in 86 Nebraska counties already handle election duties. Phipps has not been available for comment, but both he and the governor have fought to keep things as is.

Earlier this year, a Nebraska Watchdog investigation found letters from both Phipps and Heineman urging lawmakers to leave well-enough alone.

“I believe that this important appointment authority should remain with the governor … to maintain a degree of independence from county boards,” Heineman wrote.

Phipps, who was appointed by Heineman seven years ago, agreed.

“If a County Board is unhappy with an Election Commissioner, there is the power to reduce, or threaten to reduce, the Election Commissioner’s budget if they do not bend to the will of the Board.”

Their comments came during calmer times and talks on a little publicized bill (LB934) that would have ended the governor’s ability to appoint the election commissioner in Douglas County and in the state’s two other largest counties — Lancaster and Sarpy.

Both letters were written Feb. 1, the day of the public hearing on the bill.

“Transferring appointment authority to county boards creates the opportunity for an intermingling of personal interests and public duties,” the governor said. “I am concerned about maintaining honest elections in Nebraska.”

At that public hearing, Deputy Secretary of State Neil Erickson testified that the governor has been appointing the election commissioner in Douglas County since 1913, when vote fraud was rampant.

“You had situations where ballot boxes were ending up in the river,” Erickson said.

But Erickson also told the Government Committee that in the 86 other counties where the elected county clerk is also the election commissioner,  there are no strings attached.

The county boards “don’t really have the authority to order the county clerks to do much of anything,” Erickson said.

Contact Joe Jordan at [email protected]

To subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here.

— Edited by Kelly Carson, [email protected]













Joe formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • just remember that in all the big cities (coincidentally run by democrats) the charges of voter fraud go unanswered.year after year they routinely vote for the democrat party and year after year they go deeper in debt, deeper into sinking poverty, and deeper into moral decline. but I can understand why they think Omaha will be different????

  • racefish

    Do you think if Phipps was a Democrat, there’d be this much uproar? I’d guarantee there wouldn’t.

  • I almost never know this far before session starts what I will be filibustering, so I guess I should thank my colleagues across the aisle for this. These attacks on Phipps remain disgraceful, and they are based in ignorance at best. I will do everything I can to resist this- this type of nonsense should never be rewarded, and these changes are unwarranted, and partisan-based in their own right.

  • Jazzee

    Sir: I agree with you. He is following what was agreed to by others to save the county money and he did his job. Also is’t his deputy a democrat? So if he was doing ALL they accuse him of surely that person would speak up. And if this were a democrat nothing would have been said just like everything else they can do it without accountability but repubs are attacked over and over again. Maybe passing a voter ID which they hate more would shut them all up.

  • resistwemuch


  • Indeed! (Your “name” always cracks me up, by the way)

  • Bam

    So, it sounds like the Nebraska Democratic Party has given up on ever electing a Democrat to governor again, but that they COULD get a county board elected and go back to the voter fraud that we had 100 years ago. That doesn’t sound very “progressive” to me!

  • D. Mark

    State Senator Steve Lathrop is thinking about running for higher office and has to get his name out there, but this is not the way to do it!!!!!!!

  • Kent Goertzen

    I think the control should be the county not the Governor decide their election commissioner.

    Although anyone in the process is going to bring their own biases to the appointment, at least it would be in the power of the people of the country to keep or remove them.

  • Kent Goertzen

    If he was doing something to disenfranchise the GOP vote, you bet your *ss there would be just as much uproar.

  • Kent Goertzen

    Funny the most impoverished and depleted states are Red states. With more people taking assistance from those states, and more pork barrel spending going to those states also.

  • Excellent position to take on this issue Sen. Lautenbaugh.

  • Sen. Lathrop is a fine one to say “I don’t want to accuse anyone of being incompetent or political, but I
    don’t know what other explanations there are,” Lathrop said. The very same could be said of Lathrop’s votes and continued support to provide benefits and services to illegal aliens – abusing his authority on the Judiciary Committee to accomplish it.

  • The attacks on Phipps are far less disgraceful than his actions to suppress the vote to begin with.

  • Pat Boyle

    Scott, Phipps has earned every bit of criticism on this mess. I do agree with your statement that this type of nonsense should never be rewarded, it should be punished.

    I get that we’re talking about “your guys” so this is nonsense to use your own words. That being said, it’s the failure to see where the other side of the coin that is your party’s greatest weakness.

  • The Law should remain, the person who betrayed our trust needs to get out of public office.

  • I think we need to find more non-partisan solutions when it comes to election commissioners. I don’t think removing control from a GOP Governor to a Democrat County Board is going to solve anything either. All election issues should fall under a nonpartisan independent commission, especially in a state with a non-partisan legislature.

  • Nebraska is a state that gives considerable tax credits to well off companies. If you have a problem giving money to people truly who need it, you need to seriously re-examine your points here.

  • You are simply repeating untruths, and saying they justified the attacks on Phipps (which were based upon the same untruths). Curious that the Justice Department came in nosing around at the Primary (after so many Democrat activists repeated your same charge of “voter suppression”), and then Justice just went away, apparently. As I’ve stated many, many times on here, the precincts are adjusted every ten years after the census. In 2010, the Legislature passed a bill which specifically authorized Phipps and others to draw larger precincts. Senators Lathrop, Mello and Council all voted for it (as did 44 other Senators), and now they apparently are taking turns leading the charge on this “issue”. If you can find any actual evidence of any vote suppression effort, you should present it. Otherwise, simply repeating the charge is, well, disgraceful, in a word.

  • Pat– Simply put, you don’t know what you are talking about (see my response to Ken above). Maybe you should enlighten me on what exactly Phipps did to earn this criticism.

  • It must have been a coincidence that voter suppression was happening on the national level and in the Nebraska Unicam and with Mr Phipps in Douglas County at the same time. None of that worked by the way. And I predict that Mr Lathrop’s bill has a good chance of succeeding. I doubt Senator Lautenbaugh knows how to filibuster. Never seen him do it before.

  • Libtard

    “At that public hearing, Deputy Secretary of State Neil Erickson
    testified that the governor has been appointing the election
    commissioner in Douglas County since 1913, when vote fraud was rampant.”

    But…I thought liberals said vote fraud has never happened in Nebraska???

  • Jazzee

    You are 100% correct

  • Kent Goertzen

    There is no non-partisan solution. Anyone involved in the decision is going to bring their bias to the choices.

    But at least changing it to the county would put the power back to the county and not someone outside.

    Perhaps an election board selected with representatives from both parties.

    But then that is biased against independents.

  • Watching_From_Lincoln

    So your racist side against “brown people” comes out Susan. Think that might be why you had your *ss handed to you in a predominantly minority district in your feeble attempt to inflate your ego by running for the Unicameral?? North Omaha ISN’T Fremont (thankfully).

  • Watching_From_Lincoln

    Both of them, the appointee and the appointer!

  • Include a board then with GOP, DEM, Independents and the smaller parties, too.

  • Kent Goertzen

    Some independent groups it wouldn’t be so bad as they consistently have candidates, but that is only a small portion. I think it would be difficult to keep a board updated with the ever shifting rest of the groups.

  • Kent Goertzen

    Just because they didn’t have legal means to act doesn’t mean it wasn’t suppression.

    Notice the Justice Dept didn’t step in with Florida’s moves either. It was courts not the Justice Dept that acted, and even then used verbal reprimands not mandate. That doesn’t change the fact Florida’s Governors actions to cut voting was in deed politically motivated and meant to suppress the vote. A member of the party openly admitted that is their motivation.

    It was blatant in Omaha, and only someone in denial can ignore it and say it wasn’t happening. It was a move by the Nebraska GOP to make Omaha all red again that failed.

    Of course now they’ll just try to push through the electoral change again. We have one of the more representative electoral systems in the US and the GOP would love to change to a less democratic system of winner take all, just to end those in Omaha actually having their vote count.

  • Kent Goertzen

    Clearly it wouldn’t matter if he listed every grievance people had with his voting changes. You still would deny it.

    Sadly that you deny that is the strategy even though you know it for fact says a lot about you.

  • Kent Goertzen

    100 years ago is how far back you have to go? And even that fraud was questionable as to how rampant it was to justify what the Governor did. You might read up on it a bit more… from sites that aren’t just pushing the GOP agenda.

  • Darth Watchdog

    100 years is how far back we go because it hasn’t been checked
    for since then. It has definitely benefited the big Democratic political machine in Omaha over the years.

  • Kent Goertzen

    The problems back then are in dispute in large part to the motivations of the accusation.

    And it is telling you think the only reason Democrats have had a hold there is because of a shoddy report from 100 years ago as if it has any bearing to today.

    You are burying your head in the sand to the demographics.

    If there was so much fraud where are the cases being brought up? There are none. Not from politicians who should be contesting it, not from citizens witnessing it or experiencing it. None. It is a scapegoat to distract from voter suppression, period.

  • Darth Watchdog

    You disagree with it, so it’s a shoddy report? How convenient.

    If you don’t check for it Kent, guess what…you won’t find it. Simple as that.