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Nebraska moves bill to let unelected senators serve longer

JULIA SHUMWAYApril 25, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The Nebraska Legislature gave initial approval Thursday to a measure that could let appointed state senators serve more than two and a half years before they face an election, but several lawmakers say the bill needs more work to ensure voters can choose their representative.

Vacancies that occur earlier than 60 days before an election now are filled during the election. A proposal by Sen. John Murante of Gretna would instead require that vacancies occur before Feb. 1 of an election year to be filled in the next election.

Murante, who is considering a run for Nebraska secretary of state, said he introduced the bill at the request of county elections commissioners who need more time to organize elections. Unexpected vacancies shortly before the election mean people who want the seat may have to run as write-in candidates because they missed filing or petition deadlines and create confusion for voters, he said.

“There are innumerable problems with the policy as it exists right now,” Murante said.

Non-incumbent candidates have until March 1 to file for election, and Murante said the Feb. 1 cutoff is meant to give potential candidates a month to decide whether to run and ensure there is time for a primary election.

Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha said he understands concerns about not having enough time, but voters need to be able to pick their representative. Omaha and Lincoln have general elections for municipal elections a few weeks after the city primary, he said.

He said the bill addresses a hypothetical dilemma for election commissioners and could result in voters being represented by someone they wouldn’t have selected.

“We’re trying to fix a problem that hasn’t been a problem, hasn’t actually come up as a problem and may have unintended consequences,” Vargas said.

The bill also would require people voting absentee ballots to sign an oath stating that they are registered voters in the county, will not try to vote in-person and acknowledge that signing the form with false information is a felony punishable by up to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine. Failing to sign the oath would invalidate the ballot.

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