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Push to clean-up Omaha vote gets second look

By   /   February 20, 2013  /   6 Comments

Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog

Stalled plans promoting cleaner elections in Omaha, plans surrounding troubled Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps, appear to have new life at the State Capitol.

State Sen. Bill Avery tells Nebraska Watchdog the possible game changer is a recent ruling which found that Phipps’ office broke a federal law and kept some inner city Omaha voters from casting ballots last November.

Following an investigation directed by Republican Secretary of State John Gale it was determined that some voters were not allowed to cast provisional ballots, ballots that might be counted later, because they were unable to produce an unneeded voter ID number.

Gale’s inquiry followed a complaint by Nebraskans for Civic Reform which initially claimed that “hundreds, potentially thousands” of voters were denied the right to vote—the actual number was not determined.

Avery, chairman of the Government Committee which oversees election rules, tells Nebraska Watchdog the report is “interesting timing and puts some pressure on the committee to do something.”

The state investigation coincided with Nebraska Watchdog‘s exclusive report (and video) which questioned Phipps’ handling of polling place locations in Omaha.

Nebraska Watchdog found that Phipps, a Republican, refused to merge voting sites in at least one Republican part of town while closing numerous polling operations in Democratic neighborhoods.

Three bills, all potentially affecting Phipps, are under review by Avery’s committee which is made up of five Republicans and three Democrats.

  • LB183 calls for the election commissioners in Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster counties to be appointed by the county board instead of the governor—Republican Governor Dave Heineman appointed Phipps. Avery, a Democrat, says the bill is deadlocked in committee and is expected to die.
  • LB188 would require that the legislature OK the governor’s choice of election commissioners in Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster. Avery believes that although this bill was deadlocked it now appears likely to get a second vote and move to the floor.
  • LB235, which has yet to be voted on by the committee, would shrink precincts from 1,750 voters to 1,000 and create a citizens group to oversee the top three county election chiefs. Phipps, who did not testify on any of this year’s bills, closed several Omaha polling places last May stirring controversy that he was out to suppress the inner city Democratic vote.

While it is still possible Avery’s committee will not advance any new measures he tells Nebraska Watchdog that would be a mistake.

“No action on the bills would further the lack of trust in the Douglas County Election Commissioner,” said Avery.

Contact Joe Jordan at [email protected]

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Joe formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • Bam

    I would be more impressed if Nebraska Watchdog could get an interview with the Douglas County deputy election commissioner – a Democrat – and have THAT individual report on the office’s “problems.”

    The appointment of the election commissioner was taken away from those county boards in 1913 because of the ongoing election scandals and overdue influence the boards held over their appointee, who must remain impartial. Now, the Democrats want to go back to a system where they can influence the office of the election commissioner. They are going to keep beating this drum while Joe keeps holding the music.

    And “game changer” is as worn-out a term as “gravitas.”

  • L.A.

    While the Nebraskans for Civic Reform focus on the concept of “hundreds” potentially “thousands” of voters being denied their right to vote, when LB 125 was pushed through the legislature to reduce its board from 12 to 9 it told the voters who exercised their Constitutional right to vote trusting in good faith their vote would be counted and count, not to bother as long as a state senator has the power to toss votes out with a manufactured crisis to pass a new law with breakneck speed. True what they say: Haste makes waste. With the addition of the 2010 OPS Board elections and last November’s elections over 67,000 votes were thrown away of duly elected representatives who were systematically stripped of their power and Constitutional rights to serve. Some would reduce that to a mere “reset” when in truth it was the result of a “gotcha” moment from someone who leaked from an OPS executive session to the hungry media. While the focus has been on an illegal swearing in, little to no attention has been given to the voters who found their way to the polls only to learn their votes were treated like a sorry joke.

  • prisoner of Omaha

    What happened to the old days of reporters with the nickname “scoop”? Oh, my mistake. That was when they actually did some digging. The funny thing about today’s reporter, unlike a dog who digs deeper the smellier something gets, todays reporter seems to get nauseated by the stink and actually helps to cover it up by not reporting further on it.
    This entire election scam has many fingers and simply tracking one might bring a big pile of “smelly” stuff to the surface. The first question I would ask is why did the OPS board miss their swearing in date? Who would I ask that question to? Freddie Gray – the former president who changed the date and ended up being an illegal act. While I had her on the phone I would ask her how she liked her new job (whatever and where ever it is) and if it paid well enough to take care of any big debts she had incurred over the years. I would also ask who hired her.
    Lets move on from Freddie . . . lets look at this law regarding the swearing in date . . . should missing the swearing in date by only a couple days really trigger the trashing of ALL the votes cast for the OPS board and trigger the Unicameral to step in and within a week have an entire new plan set up to reduce the size of the board and create an entire new election? Was it really that big of a deal? Finally, how did any of us find out about this? These decisions were made in executive session of the school board. This means “Closed Door”. Who leaked the information that the swearing in date had been missed and who stood to gain the most from leaking this information?
    Were children denied their grades or their lunches from missing this date? Did teachers lose their retirement from this mishandling of the calendar? Or was this more political? Maybe Freddie and the guys who came up with the legislation need to answer a few more questions because this seems to be where the “smelly stuff” is buried.

  • Bam

    Maybe we should consider this a blessing – maybe we were saved from the worst possible board members we ever could have had.

    However, I consider this all very amusing. The “story” from NW doesn’t even mention the school board, but you two still found a way to twist it to your issue, which was an ILLEGAL act. We are a nation of laws, not men, and just because you want it to go your way, it doesn’t mean you can circumvent the law. MOVE ON.

  • Joan

    Thank goodness some one finally listened to Nebraskans for Civic Reform. Those of us who worked election day heard over and over voter complaints of not being able to vote. Many said they were given false information as to where to go vote or their voting place had been moved to far away to get there or as stated above. I hope this report busts this story wide open and those involved do some real time in prison.

  • “Nebraska Watchdog found that Phipps, a Republican, refused to merge voting sites in at least one Republican part of town while closing numerous polling operations in Democratic neighborhoods.”

    Joe, if you would take the time to actually analyze the closings you would see that there were 52% of polling places closed in North Omaha a Democratic part of town while the ward that you are referring to had 56% of their polling places closed. After the primary when more polling places were reopened, North Omaha had a 40% reduction and West Omaha has a 50% reduction.

    Based upon your own standards, the polling places for 2-04 and 2-21 should be merged together since the polling places for those two precincts are also two blocks apart.