Putting Polling Place Plan to the Test
Cutting back on polling places has sparked protests and questions about how long it will take for people to get to where they need to go to vote. Liz Dorland takes the test. Video by kmtv.comvideo
Omaha - The Douglas County Election Commissioner says closing a few polling places will save the county money, but tonight, we put his new rules to the test.
Activists say the move by the election head in Omaha will cut off thousands of voters. Mostly the poor, elderly and disabled.
But election head Dave Phipps says it will only mean an extra 5-7 minute drive to a new polling area and will save taxpayers about $100,000.
So what does that extra 7 minutes mean to all the voters who don't have transportation?
Not everyone has a vehicle to drive them to their polling place. Dave Phipps has told us that closing more than half the polling places will require some voters to drive five to seven minutes farther, just to vote
Former state lawmaker and community activist Ernie Chambers says "For somebody who's always had access to vehicular transportation, 5 to 7 minutes...if you're going to drive, seems like nothing."
Which is why he is challenging Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps to lace up his shoes and really go the distance.
"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," said Chambers.
So I put it to the test. I started at 24th and Lake, started my timer and drove.
Driving the speed limit of 30 mph, I went 2.8 miles, ending at 24th and Read Street.
I asked Chambers to join me on my walk, and he accepted my challenge.
On our journey, several people stop to ask us what we were doing.
Walking the distance in my red heels proved to be difficult at time.
Beside me, a healthy 74-year-old Chambers admitted not every senior citizen is up for such a hike.
"He (Phipps) says this is an attempt to save money, i attack that as being a poor way to balance his budget."
Some, including Chambers, believe there's more than just saving money involved. They claim it's another Republican strategy to keep those most likely to re-elect the president away from the polls.
"I believe so many people are focusing on that voter id bill that this was supposed to slip by under the radar," Chambers says.
Dave Phipps wasn't free to answer any of my questions today, but in a previous interview, he said, "People are always asking for property tax relief, they're asking for the government to spend less, you know this is one of the things we can spend less on, which is why we're doing it."
Back on our walk, we pick up a few friends wanting to help us with our test.
We finally arrive at 24th and Read street, one hour and 22 minutes later.
Chambers points out, that's just the time it took for us walk the 7 minute drive TO a polling place.
He indicated you might have to wait there 20 minutes before you could vote before walking back the same distance.
Our test proves, it's a big investment of time and energy to exercise the fundamental right just to vote.
Chambers is working with others on a federal lawsuit to reverse this decision.