Photo showcase: 2012 primary election night parties
Senate: Fischer upsets Bruning, will face Kerrey
House of Representatives: It's Ewing vs. Terry in District 2
More local races: Scandal costs Gretna mayor her job
More World-Herald coverage: omaha.com/election
* * * * *
The Douglas County election commissioner called Tuesday's primary “incredibly typical” despite the presence of federal election observers and complaints by voters about new polling places.
“For the most part, people were behaving as they normally do on election day,” said Commissioner Dave Phipps.
Turnout fell within the normal range for a primary in a presidential year. Of 315,701 registered voters in the county, about 23 percent went to the polls. Statewide turnout was about 26 percent.
In the past decade, the primary turnout in Douglas County has ranged from 12 percent to 27 percent.
Tuesday was the first election since Phipps' controversial move to close nearly half the polling places in the county, saving more than $100,000 in most elections.
U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson filed a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department, saying the Phipps plan will disenfranchise poor and minority voters. In response, the department said it would send observers to monitor the polls.
Phipps said two pairs of investigators roamed the county and questioned poll workers. He has said he simply intended to save money and didn't mean to keep anyone from voting. Because of the outcry, some polling places will reopen for the November general election.
Preston Love, who coordinates voting efforts in north Omaha, said he saw more problems than usual Tuesday.
“In north Omaha, we had mass confusion,” Love said.
Many voters didn't realize their polling places had changed. The Douglas County Democratic Party brought buses to the Omaha Housing Authority's Benson Tower because many of the elderly and disabled residents thought they could still vote in the tower lobby.
Others were stumped too. Those who live near Elmwood Park used to vote at a nearby Presbyterian church.
But it was difficult to determine exactly where to go to vote at Elmwood Tower, 52nd and Leavenworth Streets — and their confusion was understandable, given that the entrance was in a dark, crowded loading dock and service and delivery area below a parking garage.
Few signs directed voters where to go, and no sign helped them figure out where to park.
“It's easier to vote in Afghanistan than it is at Elmwood Tower,” said Dave Richardson, 67. “I told my poll worker friend Linda that inside. She said that's one of the nicer things people have had to say about it today.”
For Carolyn Riesenberg, finding the ICC Bowlatorium polling place 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 because it's too far away,” she said.
Phipps said any time polls change, some voters get confused. That's why the Election Commission sends out cards telling people where to vote.
“There's always going to be people who say, ‘Where's my polling place?'” he said.
He said it's unfortunate that some people have to go farther, but not everyone can have a polling place in their building.
Some voters, such as Sallie Haas, didn't mind the changes. The First United Methodist Church, 7020 Cass St., is about the same distance as her former site, she said.
“Zipped in, zipped out, everybody was great,” she said.
World-Herald staff writers Emma Murray, Kevin Cole and Maggie O'Brien contributed to this report
Contact the writer: 402-444-1084, firstname.lastname@example.org