A county official's decision to close nearly half the polling stations in Douglas County is "troubling," Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale said in an email to the Governor's Office a month ago.
"It will likely cause lots of voter confusion about where to go vote," Gale wrote.
But it's unclear what Gov. Dave Heineman did with the email, and Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps said he hadn't heard from the governor on the matter.
Phipps' decision to close 166 polling stations sparked protests from those who said it will suppress the vote of people who don't have access to a reliable vehicle or otherwise can't get around.
Phipps said he made the change, which will save about $115,000 in most elections, because of new population figures from the 2010 Census.
He also said he didn't intend to prevent anyone from voting.
Last week Phipps apologized for failing to communicate with voters, and he said he would consider reopening some polling stations for the November presidential election.
The number of polling stations for the May primary is set at 186, Phipps said.
The Nebraska Democratic Party — which has called for Heineman to fire Phipps — obtained Gale's March 2 email through a Freedom of Information request this week.
Gale said in the email that closing polling stations would be especially confusing in a presidential election year, when turnout is high.
"I realize that (Phipps) has a tight budget and needs to cut costs, but a 50 percent drop in precinct numbers is pretty major in one year," Gale wrote to Heineman's chief of staff, Larry Bare. "We don't pretend to be all-wise in our office, but that decision seems troubling in the current year."
Gale didn't return a phone call Monday afternoon. A spokeswoman for Heineman said the governor was unavailable.
Phipps said he'd spoken to Gale, and the two Republicans maintain a good working relationship. Phipps said he thinks Gale liked the fact that Douglas County voters will receive cards with the address of their polling stations, something not all counties provide.
Even so, "he and I probably still disagree a little on closing this many precincts," Phipps said.
The Democrats' executive director, Jim Rogers, said he wants Phipps to reopen all polling places before the November election. He also said he would like to know whether the governor took any action after his office received the email. Bare's reply to Gale simply said, "Thanks."
"What did he do with this information?" Rogers asked.
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