- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty announced Wednesday that they have gathered enough signatures to force a repeal vote on the newly enacted state law eliminating capital punishment.

Organizers said they gathered 166,692 petition signatures in 82 days, which would be enough if declared valid to place the measure on the November 2016 ballot and block the newly enacted law from going into effect Sunday.

The signatures must still be validated in the next 40 days by the Nebraska Secretary of State. The death-penalty ban goes into effect Sunday.

“Nebraskans sent a strong message about crime and punishment in our state by signing this petition in extraordinary numbers,” said Don Stenberg, Nebraska’s state treasurer and former attorney general, in a statement.

The group needs 57,000 valid signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot and double that to prevent the law from taking effect prior to the vote.

“If Nebraskans weren’t overwhelmingly supportive of capital punishment, it would not have been possible to gather this many signatures in less than 12 weeks,” Mr. Stenberg said. “I believe it’s especially important to have overshot the 10 percent figure by this margin to make it clear that the repeal of the death penalty will not become law until voters have spoken at the ballot box and to limit new avenues for appeal of death penalty sentences.”

A traditionally red state, Nebraska shocked many onlookers earlier this year when its unicameral, non-partisan state legislature approved a death-penalty repeal, then overrode Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto.

In doing so, Nebraska became the first conservative state to scrap executions since North Dakota in 1973.

Republican state Sen. Beau McCoy called the response “a testament to the strong support of Nebraskans for keeping the death penalty,” as well as the volunteers who fanned out statewide to circulate the petitions.

“I believed from the outset the petition drive would be successful, but I didn’t imagine we’d collect this many signatures,” Mr. McCoy said.

The group was able to exceed its goal and turn in signatures a day ahead of time despite a campaign to stop the petition drive by Nebraskans for Public Safety, an ACLU-backed organization supported by the Proteus Action League in Amherst, Massachusetts, a liberal non-profit with ties to progressive billionaire George Soros.

The group, funded with a $400,000 donation from the Proteus Action League, ran ads urging voters to “decline to sign” the petitions.

“One thing is certain: no matter what happens today we are going to continue educating people about the flaws with Nebraska’s death penalty and working to ensure it stays history,” said a post Wednesday on Nebraskans for Public Safety’s Facebook page. “Thank you for joining us in this effort, we couldn’t do it without you.”

On the other side, Mr. Ricketts and his father each gave $100,000 to Nebraskans for the Death Penalty.

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