What information does VIP provide for voters?
Basically, if it’s on the ballot, we aim to provide the following information, personalized to the individual voter:
Answers directly from candidates to questions attempting to learn the candidates’ motivation.
Pro and Cons in plain English to explain the background and reasoning behind ballot issues.
Information from professionals about their views on judges.
How and where do you get the information on the VIP web site?
Voter Information Project (VIP) volunteers gather most of the information to contact the candidates from the individual county web sites, and through Election Commissioner’s offices. Candidates are then called by a volunteer (usually by someone within that candidate’s district), and are given the opportunity to respond to VIP’s questions online. Occasionally a candidate’s phone number is not available. Those candidates, in some cases, are mailed a VIP questionnaire. Candidates also can provide their answers by email, fax, Postal Service, and on rare occasions, over the phone.
Where did Voter Information Project come from? How is it organized?
In the fall of 1992, a small group of Nebraska residents, both Democrat and Republican, had a discussion about being good citizens and informed voters. They had been unable to find the information they wanted about local candidates for local offices in the newspaper. As a result, they decided to write their own questions, contact local candidates, and share the answers they received with the group. They also made this information available to others. The information was favorably received and from this humble beginning, Voter Information Project (VIP) was born.
With each election since 1992, interest has grown and as more volunteers became available, more candidates and counties were added. In addition, people volunteered to research ballot issues and help translate the ballot language from “legalese” into English to aid voters. Also, professionals who know the judges contributed their opinions so voters would have a basis to evaluate whether judges should be retained. Several organizations and individuals have contributed questions for VIP to use. Many others have donated funds to cover expenses incurred in bringing the information to the voters.
VIP’s distinctive is that questions are asked of each candidate to help voters determine not just the political views of the candidates, but the “why” behind those views. Information on the judges is also unique to VIP.
Initially, back in 1992, candidate answers were distributed to voters on paper in a “packet”, and so the effort’s official name was chosen to be Voters Information Packet. Since then everything has been computerized. The official name hasn’t been “officially” changed, but most people now know us as Voter Information Project. VIP is a non-profit corporation in Nebraska with tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status since November 2013. The current board of directors includes: Kathy Holkeboer, Tom Holkeboer, Hope Golden, and Deb Stortvedt, all volunteers. The list of our other volunteers is LONG!
Who puts all of this information together?
Listing names can be a problem because someone could easily be left out, and others prefer that their names not be listed. Contacting the candidates, gathering information, and updating the website is accomplished by a team of volunteers from a variety of political parties, religious views, education, and walks of life. The members of the team vary for each election.
What areas/counties does VIP cover so far?
VIP started in 1992 in eastern Sarpy County (Bellevue) and a bit of Douglas County. See "Where did Voter Information Project come from? How is it organized?" for further background information/history on VIP.
VIP has grown to include
- Sarpy (Bellevue, La Vista, Papillion, Springfield) Douglas (Omaha, Bennington),
- Cass (Plattsmouth, Louisville, etc.),
- Lancaster (Lincoln, etc.)
- Washington (Blair, Fort Calhoun, etc.),
- Seward (Seward, Milford, etc.)
- Dodge (Fremont, etc.) Counties.
How can the local races for my area be represented?
Before VIP can add a new county to the area we cover, volunteers in that county need to be identified since candidates are usually contacted by their constituents. We need someone who can create a team by locating someone with computer skills, others with knowledge of local issues, and others willing to connect with candidates whose names will be on their personal ballot. So, the volunteer county coordinator organizes volunteers in their local area to contact the candidates and give them opportunity to respond to VIP questions that pertain to their local area. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to brainstorm the process.
How long has Voter Information Project been in existence? Is it non-partisan?
In 1992, (See more at Where did Voter Information Project come from? How is it organized?) we called our work “Voters Guide” but even then, our approach was non-partisan – just providing information for the voters to make their own decisions. In 2000 we began calling our effort Voters Information Packet because the information for each county made a pretty thick packet of paper. However, even as early as 1998, we had our first website, developed by volunteers. In 2011 we contracted with a web development company to design a better website, with the goal of giving each voter the ability to access just the information for candidates appearing on their own personal ballot. We also changed our name to Voter Information Project to more accurately reflect what we do. VIP continues to be a non-partisan effort with official IRS 501c3 non-profit status.
Why do you charge for a paper copy?
Although VIP is an all-volunteer organization, paper, printer ink, postage, trips to the post office to mail the paper copies, etc. all cost money. For now, if you would like a paper copy, call Kathy at 402-292-7032. As of 2017, the ability for you to print directly from the website is still in process.
Is there a way I can help with costs?
Yes, donations are gratefully accepted. Even though VIP is an all-volunteer organization, there are costs incurred making information available to voters. Website upkeep is an ongoing expense; website development for continuing improvements also adds expense, as well as regular office expense. VIP is a non-profit corporation in Nebraska with tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status since November 2013, retroactive to the 2011 incorporation date. Please visit our donation page (https://www.voterinformation.org/vip/donate/) to make a donation, and thank you!
What about judges?
In Nebraska, our governor appoints the judges. Every six years after being appointed, a judge’s name appears on the ballot in the district or area their court serves, giving voters the opportunity to vote whether to retain that judge. Unfortunately, it is difficult for the voters to evaluate the judges’ performance. VIP gathers information from several sources to aid voters in evaluating the judges. The information comes partly from selected portions of the Nebraska Bar Association’s “Judicial Performance Evaluation.” However, this information comes primarily (about 95%) from defense attorneys, so that gives a potential bias to the results. To counteract that, VIP also interviews lawyers, law enforcement personnel, and others who have contact with the judges, and reports their information anonymously. Most of the professionals interviewed by VIP have a pro-life, pro-family bias.
The judicial system in Nebraska has a variety of levels. The County Courts deal with “lower level” issues, for example cases under $53,000 and misdemeanors. County Courts also handle juvenile issues, except for Douglas, Sarpy, and Lancaster Counties, which each have a separate Juvenile Court. Appeals can be made from County Court and Juvenile Court to the next level up, District Court. The District Court also handles “big” cases, hearing all felony criminal cases, equity cases, and civil cases involving more than $53,000.
Appeals from District Court go to the Court of Appeals which consists of six judges. Appealed cases are heard by a panel of three judges from the Court of Appeals. Their decisions are final unless the Nebraska Supreme Court is willing to hear a case. The Nebraska Supreme Court is made up of a chief justice and six associate justices from six districts throughout the state. Another separate court is the Workers’ Compensation Court, which deals with claims against employers concerning workplace accidents, and whose decisions can be appealed to the Court of Appeals.
More details are available at https://supremecourt.nebraska.gov/4853/nebraska-state- judicial-system#DC
Why are there so many people to vote for?
There are elected offices at the Federal, State, County, and City levels. In addition, there are elected offices to oversee the public schools and administrate their resources (School Boards, Educational Service Units [ESU], and the Learning Community), and to oversee community colleges (Board of Governors), and state universities (Regents).
Nebraska is unique in having natural resources districts, and it also has public utilities. These are administered by elected officials. We like to call these the “alphabet” races– NRD, OPPD, NPPD, MUD, etc. The public power districts vary in size across the state. NPPD services many counties, even as far west as Scotts Bluff County. OPPD covers a major portion of the Eastern side of the state, and there are others. MUD provides water and natural gas for the more populated areas of the state.
Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts (NRD) cover the state, 23 in all. They are named after rivers and each district, with its sub-districts, has many candidates running for the opportunity “to solve flood control, soil erosion, irrigation run-off, and groundwater quantity and quality issues.” As they say at their website, “Natural Resources Districts are unique to Nebraska because they are governed by locally elected boards and Nebraska is the only state in the union to have this system.”
What about the Learning Community?
You might remember hearing the “One City, One School District” phrase. Some perceived that phrase to mean Omaha Public Schools wanted to “take over” the Millard School District to have better funding. Meanwhile in Sarpy County, Bellevue Schools wanted to reclaim land that had been sold to Papillion-LaVista Schools in the early 1980’s. Some lawsuits ensued and the Legislature got involved, eventually passing a bill, LB641, in 2007.
According to Governor Heineman’s press release at that time, the purpose of the bill was “to resolve educational and boundary issues among several school districts in the Omaha metropolitan area.” The law provided for a Learning Community Coordinating Council to make decisions concerning the sharing of resources called the common levy.
However, recently, the common levy was removed so now the job of the Learning Community was redefined to deal with early childhood education and family support for students in poverty.
Voters elect 12 members. The remaining members are appointed by existing school boards. We vote for one, and the two top vote-getters will serve in that district. The other six members of the council are appointed by the 11 school boards in the Douglas/Sarpy area.
For a map of the school districts and learning community districts, go to:
What about Educational Service Units?
Educational Service Units (ESU’s) were created by the Nebraska Legislature in 1965 to provide shared educational resources for smaller school districts. For example, a speech and language teacher could serve several schools in different districts as part of an ESU. There are currently 19 ESU’s, each governed by an elected board. See map.