Election watchdog group says Phipps violated law

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November 27th, 2012

Omaha, NE – Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps is under fire yet again. Nebraskans for Civic Reform says the commissioner violated election law because election workers illegally turned people away from the polls on Election Day.

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Nebraskans for Civic Reform, a non-profit election watchdog group, filed an official complaint against Phipps with the Nebraska Secretary of State’s office Tuesday. Phipps, a Republican who was appointed to his seat by Gov. Dave Heineman, is accused of illegally sending hundreds of voters away from the polls in Douglas County on Election Day.

Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps. (Photo by Angel Martin)

Executive Director Adam Morfeld said his group sent nonpartisan election observers to several polling locations and saw poll workers requiring voter ID numbers from voters seeking provisional ballots. “It appears as though it was going on at several polling locations all day,” Morfeld said. “Our observers reported back that nine precincts were requiring it. But we were only at about 25 or 30 precincts on Election Day in Omaha. So we believe that there were many more.”

Morfeld said voters who tried to call the election commissioner’s office to get their numbers couldn’t get through. But Phipps said his office had about 33 phone lines open on Election Day and took thousands of calls.

“Obviously with the presidential general election and lots of people voting, it is very busy,” Phipps said. “These are instances where voters have moved and didn’t re-register, and that’s why they were voting provisionally. It’s one of those unfortunate things that people sometimes wait until the very last minute to try to get a call in and find out where they’re supposed to vote on Election Day.”

Phipps said he heard of two instances where voters were mistakenly turned away. He said over 2,000 people worked on Election Day and some simply made mistakes. “These are people that either volunteer or are drafted into service that only work one or two days out of the year,” Phipps said. “Obviously they can make mistakes and that’s what this was. Nobody was trained to do that. They were trained to just let people vote provisionally and follow the correct procedures.”

Phipps called the complaint a “political statement” and said some of the heat his office has received since Election Day is simply sour grapes over Nebraska voting red. Phipps has been under fire for allegedly coordinating legislation that led to dozens of poll closures in Democratic strongholds, and Morfeld said that context is important.

“I think it is important to note though that because there was a lot of confusion with the polling place poll closures,” Morfeld said, “there was a much higher number of people wanting to cast provisional ballots. However I think a lot of those voters were turned away from the polls unlawfully.”

Morfeld said the complaint will help “get to the bottom” of what happened. It requests a hearing where Phipps and the Secretary of State’s office would testify, and Morfeld said his group is prepared to file in federal court if necessary.

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