Today, Nebraska Appleseed and Nebraskans for Civic Reform wrote a letter to Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale formally requesting an investigation concerning the practices and procedures of Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps. Earlier this year, Phipps announced he will eliminate half of Omaha’s polling locations in spite of the closings having a disproportionate impact on low-income and minority populations’ access to the polls. These actions appear to have a discriminatory effect and impinge upon the fundamental right to vote.[DDET Read the letter] April 3, 2012
Mr. John Gale
Secretary of State
State Capitol, 1445 K St., Suite 2300
Lincoln, NE 68509
Dear Secretary Gale,
Nebraskans for Civic Reform and Nebraska Appleseed have been working closely with community members in Douglas County concerning Commissioner Phipps’ decision to reduce the number of polling locations. As more information has become available about how Commissioner Phipps is carrying out his duties, including indications by your office that Douglas County had fallen behind other counties in entering registered voters into the system, it is becoming more apparent that additional measures may be required to ensure that that the administration of elections in Douglas County are in compliance with all state and federal requirements. Accordingly, this letter is a formal request that the Secretary of State’s office initiate an official investigation concerning the practices and procedures of Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps in the administration of elections pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. § 32-203(1).
Under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 32-202(1) the Secretary of State’s duty is to “[s)upervise the conduct of the primary and general elections in this state.” Further, Neb. Rev. Stat. § 32-203(1) provides that the Secretary of State also has the power to “Inspect, with or without the filing of a complaint by any person, and review the practices and procedures of election commissioners, county clerks, their employees, and other election officials in the conduct of primary and general elections and the registration of qualified electors.”
According to our analysis, Commissioner Phipps’ polling place closings disproportionately impact low income and minority populations’ access to the polls. These actions appear to have a discriminatory effect and impinge upon the fundamental right to vote. Further, we appreciate your efforts to bring your concerns to the attention of the Governor’s chief of staff in your email dated March 2nd 2012, and we feel that those concerns also provide additional grounds for an investigation into not only voter registration practices but also Commissioner Phipps’ administrative practices as a whole. Given the serious nature of the events that have taken place over the last several weeks, and the overwhelming concern among community members that these changes are confusing and are likely to have the effect of disenfranchising thousands of Nebraska voters, use of your powers to investigate the actions of Commissioner Phipps are appropriate.
Fair and well-administered elections are critical not only to a representative democracy but also to the public perception of the legitimacy of our elections. As the chief election officer of the state we request that you exercise your statutory authority to inspect and review Commissioner Phipps’ actions to ensure the residents of Douglas County are provided with fair and accessible elections as guaranteed by Article I, Section 22 of Nebraska’s Constitution.
Adam S. Morfeld
Nebraskans for Civic Reform
Rebecca Gould, JD