Community leaders and voting rights groups are considering a lawsuit over the closure of almost half the polling stations in Douglas County.
Dissatisfaction continued Monday with Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps for his decision to reduce the number of precincts during redistricting from the 2010 Census.
At a heated meeting Monday, about 20 representatives of north and South Omaha questioned the change and why Phipps made it without seeking community input.
“For you to say, ‘We're going to do this' after the fact is ludicrous to me,” said Willie Hamilton, a representative of the NAACP who organized the meeting.
Phipps, who was appointed by the governor in 2005 and 2008, said the move will save about $115,000 in most elections. It makes sense to close polling stations when almost a third of Douglas County voters vote early, he said.
The decision came in part from a change in state law that allows voting precincts to contain a larger number of people.
“This has been nothing but an economic issue,” Phipps said.
Phipps didn't consider factors such as poverty when redistricting precincts. Those attending Monday's meeting said that means the closings will disproportionately affect the elderly and those who don't have reliable access to cars.
Adam Morfeld, president of Nebraskans for Civic Reform, shared an analysis that showed the three Omaha legislative districts with the highest percentage of minorities will be among those with the fewest polling stations. Phipps said that's because those areas had lower voter turnout in 2008, which he used as the benchmark.
He acknowledged that he should have sought feedback on the plan. He said he plans to re-evaluate the changes before the 2014 elections and will ask for input then.
“I know that I've come off badly in this, that I didn't include you in the discussion,” he said.
Hamilton and others asked Phipps to reverse his decision, but he said it's too late to change the precincts before this year's presidential election.
Phipps then was asked to send out information about early voting, but he said that would be too expensive.
Attendees said they were disappointed in the meeting.
Robert Rundquist, president of the Metro Young Latino Professional Association, accused Phipps of pursuing “separate but equal” policies.
Many at the meeting objected to Phipps' statement that he made the change because taxpayers wanted him to cut costs.
“We are those taxpayers that you talked about,” said Sergio Sosa, president of the Omaha Alliance of Latino Organizations.
Sosa and Kristin Ostrom, a community organizer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the groups will look at the numbers and decide whether to file a lawsuit.
They have planned a protest outside of Phipps' office at noon Thursday.
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