Dave Phipps, the Douglas County Elections Commissioner, was appointed by Governor Dave Heineman, both of whom are staunch Republicans. Now that LB 239 (the voter suppression bill in the state legislature) appears stalled, the Powers That Be have decided that they can reduce the turnout of minorities in Douglas County by administrative fiat simply by cutting the number of polling stations in half.
The rationale is, of course, that this is a money-saving effort in difficult financial times. However, there have been no media stories about the Election Commission budget being cut by the County Board. Apparently Mr. Phipps is volunteering to cut his own budget, certainly a noble and unusual thing to do for an elected official.
As Mr. Phipps pointed out, the reduction will mean that people will have to drive another five to seven minutes to find a polling station.
In West Omaha where each house has at least one car and nobody walks anywhere (there are no sidewalks), this argument makes some limited sense.
For people without cars (fixed income, elderly, low income), not so much. In North and South O, many people are accustomed to walking to their polling stations (we even have sidewalks).
And we are not referring just to convenience here. Poverty is concentrated in North and South O. Significant numbers here do not have cars. Eliminating their polling station means eliminating their vote.
Mr. Phipps' response to this is that we have absentee (or mail-in) balloting and people can just mail in their ballots. So let's compare the effort involved in voting at a polling station and by mail-in ballot.
To mail a ballot, I first have to call or mail in a request. A few days to a week later, I receive a ballot in the mail. I fill out the ballot and, since it is oversize, I put about $1 worth of postage on it. The very large ballot does not fit in most mail boxes for the postal carrier to pick up (and it can't be folded), so I have to find a way to get it to the post office. Then, a few days later, I call in to confirm that my ballot actually arrived.
To vote at a polling station (pre-voter suppression), I simply walk to my polling station, vote, and walk back home. I don't have to pay anything.
The fact that people without cars (or money) tend not to vote Republican gives a clue as to what is actually behind this noble gesture of budget-cutting on the part of Mr. Phipps. Progressives, on the other hand, support the principal that every citizen who wants to vote should get to vote.
If you care about voting rights and can free up some time around lunch hour, there will be a protest in front of the Douglas County Elections Commission, 225 North 115th Street, Noon, Thursday, March 22. The NAACP, ProgressiveOmahans and Voters for Civic Reform will be there.