Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis sent an email late Thursday to members of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee to emphasize why he thinks it is time to change Nebraska’s primary election laws. His bill, LB773, which the committee heard on Wednesday, would make it easier for independent voters to participate in primary elections. In executive session Thursday, there was a motion to kill the bill, but that motion failed and the bill will be held in committee indefinitely. The bill would allow nonpartisan voters to choose a party’s ballot on election day without officially changing their party affiliation. This would affect elections for president, governor, secretary of state, attorney general, county commissioner, county clerk and county sheriff, among others. Currently, independent voters are only allowed to participate in nonpartisan elections, including those for state legislature, state board of education, mayor and city council. The bill would turn Nebraska’s primary system from a totally closed system to a hybrid system similar to other states.
In the email Davis sent out Thursday, he explained that Nebraska’s rural counties are a good example of why the system needs to change. “Here is how an election might work in rural county,” Davis wrote in the email. “Three people might run for clerk’s office on the Republican ticket. No one runs on the Democratic ticket. Dems can’t vote, Independents can’t vote, and there is a low turnout. The county is 60 percent Republican. Candidate C wins the Republican position on the ballot with 40 percent of the Republican vote. The Republican turnout is only 25 percent of registered Republican voters. So what has actually happened is that 10 percent of the Republicans in this county came out to vote for the winner.
“Now bring in the Independents and Dems who didn’t get to vote and assume they make up 40% of the voters in that county and we now see that the 10 percent has dropped again to 6 percent of the total voters.”
In other words, he said, a county with 1,000 registered voters in that scenario might elect the county clerk with just 60 people voting for the winner.