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Nonpartisan Nebraska Legislature Defies Governor, Abolishes Death Penalty

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published

On Wednesday, Nebraska shocked the nation by being the first Republican-dominated state to abolish the death penalty in 40 years. The unicameral Legislature, unique in the United States, voted to override Governor Pete Ricketts' (R) veto 30-to-19.

The vote highlights a growing trend across the country -- Democrats and Republicans are finding common ground on criminal justice issues. Whether it is on Capitol Hill or in state legislatures, members of both parties are showing rare bipartisan cooperation on these issues -- motivated, of course, by different reasons.

The New York Times reports:

"In other states, Democrats and Republicans driven by different motivations have formed alliances to limit the revenue that towns can collect from traffic fines; to crack down on civil asset forfeiture, a practice that disproportionately affects the poor; and to ease mandatory prison sentences.   On the presidential trail, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have all called for easing mandatory minimum sentences, while other Republican candidates have embraced proposals to revamp bail and expand drug treatment that have also been championed by Democrats. Though it formally considers itself nonpartisan, the Nebraska Legislature is dominated by Republicans."

Read the full New York Times article here.

Nebraska is one of a few states that uses a nonpartisan election system to elect its legislators -- a fact many people are not aware of. Separate party primaries are not held to choose party candidates. Instead, all candidates and voters participate on a single primary ballot and the top two vote-getters move on to the general election. Formal party alignments do not exist in the Legislature and coalitions are typically formed on an issue-by-issue basis.

It is unclear whether other states with a similar electoral landscape will join Nebraska in abolishing the death penalty. However, according to a recent poll by Gallup, the Legislature's actions are in-step with the attitudes of the American people. According to Gallup, 60 percent of Americans believe the death penalty is immoral.

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