People who live outside Omaha's city limits won't be in the running to get voting rights for city elections, after all.
A week after the Omaha City Council voted 4-3 to forward a nonresident voting rights proposal to the Legislature, council members who had supported the idea changed course. No one on the council voted to override Mayor Jean Stothert's veto of the plan, which would have pushed for voting rights for people living in a three-mile area around the city.
Councilman Franklin Thompson, who introduced last week's resolution, said he changed his mind after hearing input from residents, reading media reports and learning about the potential legal challenges that could come with such a plan.
A memo from city legal officials noted that extending the vote to people living in sanitary and improvement districts could leave the city vulnerable to challenges under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, among other issues. Stothert's veto pointed out that the idea could violate the city's charter.
“Today I admit I was wrong,” Thompson said. “For all the reasons cited, granting the vote to three-mile-zone citizens would not pass legal muster. If we were to grant it, we'd be tied up with legal battles. And those legal battles we'd probably lose, and it would be very costly to the city.”
Still, Thompson and Councilwoman Aimee Melton said they believed the idea wasn't without merit.
Melton noted that nearly 67,000 people have an Omaha address but officially are not residents of the city and cannot vote in city elections. She said she and other council members who live in the western half of the city feel a duty to represent those people.
Melton said it was important to open the discussion and to show that the city is sometimes “overreaching in taking our master plan and forcing it on non-residents.”
Thompson said he hopes people on both sides of the city line now have a better understanding of where they stand.
“Whether or not that input was pro or con, positive or negative, balanced or tilted, crunchy or janky, I still count it all good,” he said, “because it helped educate the public.”