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The common thread for Tuesday's primary voting in the Omaha area has been the struggle to break routines.
Polling place consolidations citywide have left many Midlanders hunting for where to park, how to get into new buildings and where inside they vote.
Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps has said his office is getting some calls from people wanting to be sure of their new polling places, but few problems have been reported.
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Some difficulty with new locations
Residents of Benson Tower were being bused to their new polling location Tuesday by volunteers from the Douglas County Democratic Party.
The people who live at the Omaha Housing Authority property at 5900 Northwest Radial used to vote in the lobby of the building.
But their polling spot was changed this time around, to 54th and Corby Streets.
It was an issue because many of the low-income residents are elderly or disabled, and had no way of getting there to vote, said Mike Leahy, chairman of the county Democrats. Many didn't know their polling location had changed.
Rebekah Caruthers, a spokeswoman for Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing, who is running for the Democratic congressional nomination, said there had been other reports of voter confusion at numerous voting locations, especially in north Omaha.
"Residents are being turned away, and they are upset and frustrated," she said.
Phipps said every registered voter in the county whose polling location changed was sent a postcard notifying them in late March. In addition, he said, every registered voter in Douglas County was sent an early voting application, so they could have voted weeks ago.
Phipps said sometimes such problems arise when polling locations are changed, such as at nursing homes.
"When it happens, it's unfortunate, because everybody would like to vote where they live," Phipps said. "But sometimes we have to move people to different polling places."
Added Phipps: "We hate it when it does happen. Everybody should be able to vote."
Phipps said in the middle of the afternoon that the turnout continued to be light, similar to what he said this morning. He said he still hadn't heard many complaints about people not knowing where to go to vote.
For Carolyn Riesenberg, trying to find the ICC Bowlatorium polling station near 25th and Bancroft Streets proved difficult. Eisenberg, who lives in the L Street area, said the new polling location may have affected voter turnout because of its distance for herself and others.
"A lot of people may consider it not worth looking for it because it's too far away," she said.
Ernesto Falcon, 36, of the Spring Lake area had problems with his new polling location's distance. Falcon said his previous polling site was within walking distance of his house and that he and others "used to walk in a group" to the polls. He said he thought the change will affect voter turnout for voters from the Spring Lake area.
For Patricia Mayorga, 22, the distance wasn't the problem -- her polling location didn't change -- but the timeliness of the change notification was.
"The only thing I was a little disappointed with is with all the changes I wasn't sure if it (the polling location) was going to change or not and the notice came a little late," Mayorga said. "I actually had to look on the website to check that it was still my polling site, and a few days later I think I got my card in the mail."
Tuesday morning, Beverly Frazier, 66, sat in the Urban League of Nebraska office at 30th and Lake Streets, waiting for a call from someone needing a ride to the poll. Frazier had filed an early ballot because her polling place was changed from the Urban League — which is five blocks from her home — to Girls Inc., which is about a mile from her home.
The Urban League site was still open to voters from another ward and precinct. She said the change defied logic, was irksome and probably would inconvenience some elderly neighbors.
Frazier was one of about 25 people who volunteered to drive people to polls. That's a record number for the ride-to-vote effort that Love helps coordinate, he said.
He was expecting about three times the number of requests for rides but said at midmorning that only a handful of people had called for rides.
He theorized that some were not very motivated to vote because it's a primary and that some were “paralyzed by confusion” caused by the polling place changes.
Sergio Sosa, who was helping coordinate rides for voters in South Omaha, said at mid-afternoon that five voters had requested rides.
He said he expected more in the evening. Several people had requested rides from the Christie Heights neighborhood for later in the afternoon.
Sosa said a handful of people have gone to where they thought was their polling place and their names were not on the list. That included people who had registered through the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles, he said.
At First United Methodist Church, 7020 Cass St. in Omaha, Sallie and Karl Haas emerged from voting at a new polling place and said it hadn't been an inconvenience. It's about the same distance as their former site was.
“Zipped in, zipped out, everybody was great,” Sallie Haas said.
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Voters who showed up at the North Christ Child Center of Catholic Charities at 2111 Emmet St., were greeted by a Douglas County election worker sitting on a camping stool near the front door. A red, white and blue sign with the words Election Information was posted above his head.
"Are you here to vote?," the man asked people who walked up to the building.
Those who said yes were told that their polling place had moved to the Evans Towers at 3600 N. 24th.
The election worker said "just a few" people had to be redirected to the Omaha Housing Authority residence. "The office sent out letters informing people where to go . . . but, you know, sometimes things like that get misplaced."
The man said he was the second of two volunteers to be stationed outside the building Tuesday. He had instructions to stay until 8 p.m.
"The toughest thing about this is the building closes at 4:30 (p.m.) so I won't have anywhere to go to the bathroom," he said. "I won't be able to have much to drink." — Kevin Cole
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Varying concerns in Gretna
At Gretna's two polling locations, voters were turning out for several different reasons.
At Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 11204 S. 204th St., Bob Losmen, 40, said his main concern was Senate party lines.
"The biggest thing for me is Senate ballots, get the right people in so we don't have a Democrat-run Senate anymore," Losmen said.
Jacque Hardies' concerns were focused on the local level.
"In the current climate in Gretna, we're due for a change in the mayoral office and our city council because of all the scandal that's been going on," the 32-year-old said.
At Resurrection Lutheran Church, 153 S. McKenna Ave., Dave Dietze, 50, said he was voting for a number of reasons.
"They're voting for the mayor of Gretna, that's one of the big things, and primaries and stuff for the upcoming presidential election and things like that. I want to get my vote in."
And for others like Jim Wohlgemuth, 51, the elections are simply a means to "perform our civic duty."
Justice Department monitoring Nebraska primary
The U.S. Justice Department announced Monday that it would monitor the primary election in Douglas County as well as in Colfax County, Neb., to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other federal voting rights statutes.
The Voting Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the election process on the basis of race, color or membership in a minority language group. In addition, the act requires Colfax County to provide language assistance in Spanish during the election process.
Federal observers were assigned to monitor polling place activities in Colfax County based on a federal court order entered in 2012.
The observers will watch and record activities during voting hours at polling locations in these counties, and Civil Rights Division attorneys will coordinate the federal activities and maintain contact with local election officials.
A Department of Justice spokesman declined to elaborate, including explaining why the monitors were in Douglas County or what they were looking for. Local activist Preston Love, who said he and Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray met Monday with two representatives of the Department of Justice, said they were here because of concerns raised by Phipps' changes to polling places.
Phipps said he didn't know exactly what the observers were doing Tuesday.
“They're out in polling places,” he said.
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Early-voting ballot returns
Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps said about 33,000 people had requested early-voting ballots in Douglas County. He didn't know how many had been turned in by noon Friday, but he expected 20,000 to 25,000 to be returned by the 8 p.m. Tuesday deadline.
In Sarpy County, Election Commissioner Wayne Bena said about 3,300 early-voting ballots had been requested and all but about 400 or 500 had been returned.
He hopes to hit a 95 percent return.
Bena said voting was going “pretty smoothly” Tuesday morning.
“We haven't had too many issues, just the normal ‘Where do I vote?' calls and calls from election inspectors asking for supplies,” Bena said.
Voters discuss polling location changes