Supporters of the referendum petition drive to get the death penalty on the ballot next year are confident it will withstand a legal challenge.
The group, Nebraskans for Public Safety, filed the lawsuit in Lancaster County District Court, claiming the referendum effort failed to follow state law and should be nullified and the nearly 167,000 signatures gathered tossed out.
The lawsuit claims referendum organizers violated state law by failing to name Gov. Pete Ricketts as one of the sponsors. The lawsuit further alleges Gov. Ricketts violated his oath of office by seeking to overturn a state law rather than abide by it.
Attorney Bob Evnen with Nebraskans for the Death Penalty says just because the governor supported the effort and donated to it, doesn’t make him a sponsor.
“Is there anybody who wasn’t aware that the governor opposed the repeal of the death penalty? Where is the fraud here? I don’t see it,” Evnen tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “So, it seems to me that it’s pretty thin.”
Even as opponent press their legal challenge, the verification process of the 166,692 signatures gathered during the petition drive continues. The Secretary of State’s office reports county election authorities have verified 65,171 signatures, more than enough needed to place the issue on the November 2016 ballot. The drive needs slightly under 57,000 verified signatures, or 5% of the state’s registered voters, to secure a spot on the ballot. If the drive reaches 10%, or slightly less than 114,000, the legislative repeal of the death penalty would be kept from going into effect.
The Unicameral approved LB 268, first overcoming a filibuster of the measure, then overriding the veto of Gov. Pete Ricketts. Opponents immediately began the petition drive to force the issue to a vote of the people.
Evnen says he is confident enough signatures will be verified not only to place the issue on the ballot, but also to keep the legislature’s repeal of the death penalty from going into effect.
“I think that when we reach that 10% threshold then it confirms that the repeal of the death penalty won’t go into effect, pending the outcome of the election in November 2016.”