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Officials asked Bellevue mayor to leave polling place for alleged electioneering

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Sarpy County election officials say they asked incumbent Bellevue Mayor Rusty Hike to leave a polling place on Election Day and reminded him about state laws against electioneering at the polls.

Election Commissioner Emily Ethington said poll workers had reported that he was shaking hands with voters at polling sites during the election Tuesday.

Hike denied that he was shaking hands with voters or otherwise electioneering.

Rusty Hike (copy)


Hike finished first in Tuesday’s primary and will face Bellevue City Council member Thomas Burns in the general election.

“There were multiple polling sites that called in and let us know that he was there and shaking hands with voters,” Ethington said.

She also said that a pickup truck decorated with Hike campaign signs was parked near the firefighter hall polling place closer than allowed by state law. Ethington said she talked to Hike about it, and the owner was contacted and moved the truck. Hike was cooperative, Ethington said.

She did not remember how many sites or all the precise polling places the reports came from but said one was a building known as Bellevue Volunteer Firefighters Hall.

Polling place officials “were the ones who reported it, and then I followed up directly with Rusty,” Ethington said. “They also asked him to leave, but I followed up with him to make our electioneering laws clear.”

Nebraska law prohibits electioneering inside polling places while the polls are set up for voters to cast ballots, or within 200 feet of the polling place. The statute reads, in part, that “Electioneering means the deliberate, visible display or audible or physical dissemination of information for the purpose of advocating for or against any candidate on the ballot for the election at which such display or dissemination is occurring.”

Hike said he went to three polling places, including the firefighters hall, but said he didn’t shake voters hands or campaign.

“I was not electioneering,” he said. “I wasn’t passing anything out, I wasn’t advertising, anything like that.”

Asked whether he shook voters’ hands or otherwise campaigned at any of the sites, Hike said: “That’s an absolute no, I was not. Because I know better.”

Hike confirmed that Ethington contacted him, but said poll workers had not asked him to “do anything different” than what he was doing. He said he went to polling places at the Fontenelle Forest Nature Center and the Bellevue Christian Center as well as the firefighter hall.

Hike said he went to Fontenelle to vote, mistakenly thinking it was his polling place. He had moved and his polling place had changed. He said he talked with an election official there who took him to the lobby, looked up Hike’s precinct on the computer and told him it was Bellevue Christian Center.

Hike said Bellevue City Council member Don Preister came in during that time.

“I was probably sitting there 20 minutes talking to Councilman Preister and the election guy,” Hike said. “I mean, I wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the election guy talking to me.”

Emily Ethington


He said he then got a text from his 94-year-old mother asking him to take her to vote. Hike said he took her to the firefighters hall. She uses a walker and he walked in with her to get her signed in, he said.

“I walked her in and, again, no advertising, no talking to anybody,” Hike said. “I didn’t shake anybody’s hand in there. I literally just stood there looking at my phone. Standing by the window, waiting for my mom to get done.”

He said he walked his mother back out to the car, and took her back to her apartment. Then he went to vote at Bellevue Christian Center, he said.

“It looks like I’m going around to polling places, but I mean, I (had) legitimate reasons,” Hike said.

After he cast his own ballot, “there was a couple standing there waiting for me to get done voting, I guess, and was talking to me for maybe two minutes,” Hike said.

The truck outside the firefighters hall belongs to a supporter of his, Hike said. Hike thought the truck was far enough away from the polling place because it was parked near other candidates’ campaign signs, he said. He estimated it was 130 feet away from the polling place. After Ethington called Hike, he said, he called his friend to come into Bellevue from his farm and move the truck to at least 250 feet away.

Ethington said candidates may not think of the nuances of state law against electioneering.

“A lot of them know our electioneering laws as sign placement,” she said. “That’s the big one: Where can we place our signs? They don’t necessarily think that being the candidate and being there is electioneering. So it was a good conversation I had with him (Hike) just to remind him.”


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Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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