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Phipps Admits Mistakes, Releases New Plan

Phipps Admits Mistakes, Releases New Plan

By Robert Maday. CREATED Mar 30, 2012

Omaha, NE -- Friday, the Douglas County Election Commissioner admits that he made a mistake.

Closed polling places caused confusion, and Dave Phipps says working with voters or leaders before making the announcement would have helped.

The apology came a day after local Democrats demanded that Governor Dave Heineman fire Phipps.

The commissioner had said the decision to close polling places would be a minor inconvenience, meaning an extra five-to-seven minute drive for some voters.

That drive could be a 3-hour walk round trip.

Phipps has said he won't take the walk.

Governor Dave Heineman did not dodge Liz Dorland's questions Friday. Liz asked, Would you walk it with me? I wore more comfortable shoes than my red ones?" Governor Heineman responded, "If I had time sometime then I might do it but I don't this afternoon."

Heineman's talking about the walk Dorland took with former State Senator Ernie Chambers. It took one hour and twenty-two minutes or roughly 3 hours round trip to an Omaha polling place. Chambers issued this challenge to Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps.

Chambers said, "I invited him to get into his car and drive for 7 minutes, and he could drive in any direction he wanted to. Get out of his car and retrace on foot and see how long it took him and how much territory he actually covered."

Phipps responded to Chambers' challenge. He said, "I mean he certainly has a right to his opinion just like everyone else."

Mr. Phipps wouldn't even watch Liz' story, but Governor Heineman did.

Friday Governor Heineman said that he "enjoyed it".   "I think that was great that you did it and certainly should be instructive and informative to the voters and to those who are going to make those decisions," said Governor Heineman.

He won't say if Phipps should take Chambers up on the challenge, but will say the Election Commissioner went about closing  polling places the wrong way. "I think he ought to be talking to a number of people in the Douglas County area regarding this issue," explained the Governor.

Phipps insists he shut down dozens of places to try to save taxpayers money. Phipps explained, "The County Board has asked me to save money, taxpayers have asked me to save money so that's what we're doing to do that."

Dorland responded, "To the sum of how much money will we save?"
Phipps said, "115-thousand dollars per election."

It's a decision that has outraged many voters. Some say it's a political one- keeping those most likely to vote to re-elect President Obama away from the polls. People like the elderly, handicapped and poor.

This week, 2,000 voters in District Two received incorrect voter cards. The card told telling them to vote at a place that's closed.
Phipps insists it was too late to change the cards because they already went to the printer.  When Liz told Governor Heineman Mr. Phipps admitted to the mistake he said, "Well I wish those cards hadn't been sent out if they were wrong."

The error makes some believe more is going on here. Preston Love, Jr. said, "Let's hope that what is in my gut is not true which is this is all part of the master plan to retard the vote of those folks who tend to want to vote for Obama number 1 and progressive issues number 2."

"There might have been a mistake made here and it could have been done better no question about that. but a to suggest a conspiracy theory, that's totally out of line," responded Governor Heineman.

Phipps says he's guilty of not getting enough input before making his decision.  "We obviously understood that this caused some confusion and some alarm for voters and so we wanted to do some things to make it easy," Phipps said.

To clear up the confusion every Douglas County voter will receive an early voting form in the mail. The Election Commissioner says this will make it easier to vote adding they can simply drop the forms off in a drop box. 

There will be five boxes, including one at the election office.  The others will be at the Charles B. Washington Branch Library, 2868 Ames Avenue; the South Omaha Library, 2808 Q Street; the Bess Johnson Elkhorn Branch Library, 2100 Reading Plaza; and the Millard Public Schools Foundation, 5225 South 159th Avenue.

In addition, Phipps will also create an advisory board.  He said, "I think this is going to be a way to gather a small group together that's familiar with the different areas of the county and get together and talk about the voting process take a look at the numbers after this election and see exactly what really was the effect of these polling place and precinct changes."

Phipps said if any changes need to happen, it could be done by the general election in November.  For the 2,000 voters who received wrong cards?  "We'll end up sending about 3 letters and then the card as well so there will probably be about 4 communications with each voter to make sure that they get the right information," Phipps explained.

There will also be a worker at the incorrect site to direct any confused voters to the right place. 

Remember when Phipps said the polling place closings and changes would save the county 115-thousand dollars?  Not anymore. You could call it the cost of creating confusion.  Phipps admitted, "I would imagine it's probably going to eat up any of the savings that we had anticipated with the polling places."

Reported By: Liz Dorland, ldorland@action3news.com