Sharply reduced Omaha voting sites under fire

2012-03-19T19:30:00Z 2012-03-19T19:35:26Z Sharply reduced Omaha voting sites under fireBy DON WALTON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
March 19, 2012 7:30 pm  • 

A voting rights coalition on Monday protested Douglas County Election Commissioner David Phipps' decision to eliminate about half of Omaha's voting sites.

After meeting with Phipps, the coalition released a statement declaring that the election commissioner was "completely unwilling" to reconsider his decision, which will close more than 100 polling locations in Omaha for the 2012 election.

Furthermore, the coalition said, Phipps was "unwilling to send out additional early voting request cards and other educational materials to voters to mitigate the impact of the closings."

Adam Morfeld, executive director of Nebraskans for Civic Reform, said the reduction of voting sites would adversely affect low-income citizens, seniors and those with disabilities, but particularly impact Omaha's minority population.

"Minority populations were disproportionately impacted by the (reduced number of) new polling locations," Morfeld said. 

"It may very well be that Commissioner Phipps did not have discriminatory intent, but his actions or lack thereof have a discriminatory effect," he said.

Phipps has said he reduced the number of precincts to save money and suggested that all voters have the same opportunity to vote by mail.

Willie Hamilton, a representative of the Omaha NAACP, raised concerns about Phipps' lack of transparency in reaching his decision.

"The election commissioner worked on these maps for six months and not once asked for community input or public comment," Hamilton said. 

"The complete lack of transparency and impact on our community is troubling," he said.

The 2012 election is expected to produce a high voter turnout with President Barack Obama's campaign contesting the Republican nominee for the Omaha congressional district's electoral vote and a high-profile battle underway for a U.S. Senate seat.

Phipps has pointed out that one-third of Douglas County votes currently are cast by mail or through the early voting process that is available before Election Day. 

Reach Don Walton at 402-473-7248 or at dwalton@journalstar.com.

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