Petitioners seeking to oust Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle submitted enough valid signatures to prompt a recall election early next year, Election Commissioner Dave Phipps said Saturday.
Phipps said his staff verified 28,720 signatures turned in by the Mayor Suttle Recall Committee. That's 2,077 more than the 26,643 signatures required to force an election.
That means a recall election will be scheduled Jan. 25, unless a Douglas County judge stops it.
Suttle and his attorney will ask District Judge Peter Bataillon to cancel the election based on allegations of fraud on the part of petition circulators. A court hearing is scheduled Dec. 20.
Recall organizers turned in 37,596 signatures, of which Phipps and his staff threw out 9,594 as invalid.
Most of the invalid signatures were from people who live outside the city limits or are not registered to vote in Omaha, Phipps said.
Only registered Omaha voters were allowed to sign the recall petition.
Phipps said the anti-recall group, Forward Omaha, gave him information about alleged instances of fraud in obtaining signatures.
Forward Omaha asserts, among other things, that petitioners lied to signers about who would pay for the recall election and said the city's new dining tax was 15 percent. That tax on dining, bar tabs and catering bills is 2.5 percent.
Phipps said he didn't throw out any signatures based on the information provided by Forward Omaha. Phipps has said he followed state law when validating petition signatures.
Under state law:
— Petition circulators must personally witness signatures.
— Signatures must be from registered Omaha voters and match voter registration
— Petition pages must be notarized.
— A person can sign only once. If someone signs more than once, only one signature would be valid.
"We can only do what the law says we can do," Phipps said. "We don't investigate based on fraud. But if the court says, 'You should reject 15,000 more signatures,' we'll reject them."
The recall committee's petition blames the mayor for “excessive taxes, broken promises and union deals that cost taxpayers millions.”
In addition to the legal fight, Suttle, a Democrat, has stepped up his efforts to reach out to his Omaha constituents. He filmed a Thanksgiving Day message on YouTube, and his office has been touting his accomplishments.
Phipps said the petition signatures were gathered from locations across Omaha — a significant number were collected in north Omaha.
Residents who live west of 72nd Street made up 55 percent of the validated signatures, while 45 percent were from east of 72nd Street.
Republicans provided 48 percent of the valid signatures, while Democrats made up 35 percent of them. Independents accounted for 17 percent of the valid signatures.
Watch the announcement: