Join us Monday at 1:30 p.m. when Executive Editor Mike Reilly will host a live chat to discuss with readers the World-Herald's decision to publish the names of people who signed the petition to recall Mayor Suttle. Click here to sign up for an e-mail reminder.
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An important chapter in Omaha's history is unfolding in the coming weeks, and The World-Herald is committed to giving you all the information we can about it.
That's why you can go here to examine the names of all 28,720 valid signatures on the petitions calling for the recall of Mayor Jim Suttle.
Our reporting staff has created a searchable database so you can look for individual names. You also can scroll through names from any of the 30 ZIP codes inside or partially inside the city limits.
We identified a number of Omahans as petition signers in recent articles on the recall attempt, and that prompted a handful of complaints that we invaded people's privacy.
So I want to address that concern as we post our complete list of valid names.
First of all, our action here is not the result of some WikiLeaks-style skulduggery.
These names are not secret. The petitions are public record under Nebraska law. They are available to anyone who visits the Douglas County Election Commission. Basically, our database gives you convenient access to something you are legally entitled to examine.
Unlike voting, the act of signing a recall petition is an extremely public act. State statute actually requires a witness for each signature. It also allows recall opponents to witness the process. Each page of the petition contains as many as 20 signatures, which means when people signed, they could see up to 19 other names.
Signing a petition is not the same as voting. A petition drive is the first part of a campaign for a recall election. People signing a petition are deciding to take part. They, in effect, become volunteers against the officeholder, cooperating with the activists gathering the signatures.
While the privacy of voting is sacred in this country, the transparency of campaigns also is important. Signing a petition is like posting a sign in the front yard. It's joining the campaign.
In our database of names, the newspaper is holding back some information as a precaution against the possibility of identity theft. You will not see individual signatures or individual addresses even though those, too, are part of the public record.
But we have included each individual's age, political affiliation and middle initial, as well as the home ZIP code. The aim is to minimize confusion about people with common names. There is a Michael Reilly who signed the petition, for example. But my friends and neighbors will be able to deduce that it was not me, based on the information available. (My not signing has nothing to do with my views on the recall; journalistic ethics preclude World-Herald news staffers from taking sides in political campaigns.)
Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps told me Thursday that his office also has received a couple of calls from people who were surprised that the petition names are public. Many also don't realize that their party registration and voting frequency records are open to public inspection, he said.
“Some people are a little shocked,” Phipps said. “I tell them I didn't make the law. I follow the law.”
Try to imagine the alternative, he said. Try to imagine a recall process where the signatures were collected and kept in secret. Imagine if Suttle's supporters just had to trust the election commissioner that there were enough signatures to force an election.
Phipps laughed at the thought: “I like to think people trust me that much, but ... .”
Part of the role of a good newspaper is to make every election campaign as transparent as possible. We view this database as part of that effort.
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