Organizers of a referendum petition drive to place capital punishment on the ballot next year express confidence Nebraska voters will retain the death penalty.
The group, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, appears to have enough signatures to keep the death penalty repeal from taking effect and force a vote.
That likely is a considerable understatement.
With 166,692 signatures turned in to the Secretary of State’s office, the group would have to have tens of thousands thrown out as invalid to not reach the thresholds needed: approximately 57,000 to place it on the November 2016 ballot and around 114,000 to keep the legislature’s repeal of the death penalty from taking effect.
State Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte argued unsuccessfully during the legislative session against LB 268. Groene at the time said state lawmakers were acting against the will of the people.
Groene now says the ultimate poll will be taken: a vote of the people.
“We have to decide in the state of Nebraska does a civilized society have as punishment for certain crimes, the death penalty? That decision will be made by the people,” Groene says.
Debate on capital punishment built slowly during the legislative session, inching closer and closer to an historic vote. After overcoming a filibuster, LB 268 easily passed the Unicameral. Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the measure, but the Unicameral overrode his veto.
The referendum petition drive sponsored by Nebraskans for the Death Penalty began shortly thereafter, culminating in nearly 167,000 signatures.
The repeal of the death penalty was to take effect Sunday. The Attorney General issued a ruling that it would be blocked from taking effect, arguing that the signatures submitted are assumed to be valid during the verification process.
One of the volunteer circulators was Vivian Tuttle, whose daughter Evonne was shot to death in the Norfolk bank robbery in 2002.
“Wherever I was, there were people who said, ‘We want to help do this. We want this to be done. The people of Nebraska need to vote’ and, over and over, they kept saying, ‘Why don’t the people get to make this choice? Why should the legislature make this choice?’” Tuttle says.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]