Analysis of Omaha Polling Place Closures Reveals Troubling Disparities

Graphic credit to The Reader

On Wednesday, The Reader published an in-depth feature story detailing the Omaha communities impacted by the decision to close 166 polling places in Douglas County.

The Reader conducted weeks of comprehensive analysis that was reviewed independently and confirmed by Nebraskans for Civic Reform.  The findings are startling.  The data shows that the closures had a disproportionate effect on certain communities based on income, race, age, and mobility.  In short, the closures make it much more difficult to vote in some of Omaha’s most underrepresented communities.

Here are some findings of The Reader’s analysis.  The percentage increase in distance to someone’s new polling place from their previous one…

  • Is twice as great for residents east of 72nd street versus those living west of 72nd street.
  • Is three times larger for those living in census tracts with median household incomes between $25,000 and $50,000 versus those with incomes greater than $50,000.
  • Is five times greater for those living in neighborhoods with a minority population that exceeds 20 percent versus those in neighborhoods with minority populations of less than 20 percent.
  • Is five times larger in census tracts where fewer than 10 percent of the population holds a bachelor’s degree compared to areas where more than 50 percent holds a bachelor’s degree.

Both local and national leaders, including Omaha community groups, U.S. Senator Ben Nelson, and the U.S. Department of Justice, have called on a probe into the polling place closures.

Nebraska Appleseed is encouraged by the steps Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps is taking to work with Omaha community leaders to ensure Omaha’s underrepresented communities are not disenfranchised from voting in elections.

At a Wednesday press conference to discuss The Reader’s analysis, Omaha community leaders reiterated they are focused on moving past the problems to work with Commissioner Phipps on finding a resolution.  They announced two public meetings where community members can be heard and discuss possible solutions.  These will be held June 13 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Hall in South Omaha at 6 pm and June 18 at the Omaha Opportunities Industrialization Center in North Omaha at 8 pm.

We hope these discussions will lead to a satisfactory solution that allows all Omaha communities to fully take part in the democratic process.  No citizen – regardless of race, age, income, education, or mobility – should be put through unnecessary difficulty to cast their ballot.

News links from Wednesday’s press conference

KETV – Polling place closure study reveals major disparities

KVNO – Data analysis backs poll closure complaints

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