Updated Jan. 14 at 9:00AM, see below
There’s been an uproar from the pro-recall effort and conservative radio in Omaha after news broke that the anti-recall group Forward Omaha was providing transportation to citizens from homeless shelters to the county election commissioner’s office so they could exercise their right to vote.
Of course, the accusations of dirty politics are already out.
It seems the pro-recall advocates seem to boil it down to this: while homeless citizens do have the RIGHT to vote, there is too much potential for their votes to be tainted by anti-recall staffers. Therefore, any interaction Forward Omaha has with homeless citizens can be equated to them paying the homeless to vote “their way.”
This logic is unfair to the workers and to the homeless citizens and from the research we have done there is no proof of buying votes, just accusations and clever talking points being thrown out on Twitter and conservative airwaves. Forward Omaha could argue right back that the pro-recallers are “buying” votes because of all the free airtime and help from the conservative echo-chamber they are getting.
Let us be clear, there are strict laws about electioneering and “buying” votes. The former is STRICTLY regulated by the state and federal government. The latter is highly illegal, and it’d be foolish for Forward Omaha or any other anti-recall group to toe that line. Their training and job description contracts that KFAB published on their website make it VERY CLEAR that any exchange of goods is out of line.
As for the mental capacities and persuade-ability of the homeless voters being provided transportation -- how is that any different from the general population? Attention ladies and gentlemen: you do not have to own a home to vote. The only requirements for voting are age, residency, citizenship and mental competence (there are some restrictions if you’ve committed a felony, but I won’t dig into that quagmire at the moment).
If pro-recallers want to argue the mental capacities of a population that is homeless, then let’s have that debate. Knowing that anyone could end up homeless, it would be arrogant and ignorant to say homeless people are not as politically savvy as people who may own a home.
Our election system is one of the things that makes America great and a little kooky. I could walk into a polling place clutching a voter guide from MoveOn.org or Americans for Prosperity and cast my vote. I’m at full liberty to do so. Your apathetic neighbor who doesn’t even know who’s the Governor of Nebraska is within his full right to walk into a voting booth and pick the names he thinks sounds prettiest if he passes the 4 basic requirements.
The ballot box is one of the few places where we are all truly equal. Rich, poor, black, white, old and young -- all of our votes are worth the same. It may not be a perfect system, but it’s one that best fits our belief that everyone is created equal.
You may not like Forward Omaha’s tactics, that’s your right. I personally don’t like a bunch of sore losers who are still crying over the 2008 elections using an economic crisis to force a costly recall on a struggling city. That’s my right. Ain’t freedom beautiful?
I’m sure Forward Omaha knows they are being closely monitored by the election commission and conservative groups who are within their right to file complaints if they have evidence of illegal activity. There’s already a microscope on this situation, I sincerely doubt Forward Omaha would be naive enough to act as if there wasn’t.
And if pro-recall groups are really outraged by the situation and want balance, they can offer transportation to Omaha citizens at the homeless shelters. Forward Omaha doesn’t have a monopoly on carpooling. In fact, providing transportation to polling places is a common tactic on all political sides. Your grandma might have gotten a ride and might again in a few days.
We are a democracy. We believe every voice and every vote matters, no matter what. Forward Omaha is inviting the voices who are too infrequently heard during are daily politics to participate. The pro-recall groups may not like it, but that’s democracy folks. We invite everyone to join in, participate and exercise their right to vote and their right to organize people. This is what democracy looks like.
Update: The Secretary of State's office has been fielding calls on the matter. They say plenty of organizations use paid poll workers but had no specific numbers because the SoS does not track paid poll workers. The cost of paid poll workers likely shows up on the expenditure reports groups must file with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.
The SoS is working to get to the bottom of the situation in Omaha and not operating on pure hearsay.