Historically, Nebraska has long set itself apart from the rest of the country in the way its legislature is elected and functions. One state senator believes it should also be unique in the way it treats third parties and third party candidates in statewide elections.
Nebraska’s nonpartisan unicameral system is the only one of its kind in the United States. Nebraska elects state lawmakers using a nonpartisan, top-two system that does not include party affiliation on the ballot, and all legislators serve in one chamber.
“It encourages members to think about who would be the best candidate for the job and who might do the best job and not fall into a party line,” said Nebraska State Senator Laura Ebke.
Senator Ebke, a Libertarian, is the author of LB34, a bill that strengthens ballot access for third parties wanting to field candidates in statewide elections. Currently, in order for a party to maintain ballot access, a candidate nominated by that party must receive at least 5 percent of the vote in a statewide race. Otherwise, a candidate must petition for ballot access.
“People have lost their ballot status because the party only got 3-4% in a statewide race, so all people registered as Libertarian (for example) would have to re-register. To get status again the party would have to petition," Ebke explained.
She believes the current electoral system works against any non-major party. LB34 is meant to make the process fairer.
“You still have to petition on, but if they (minor parties) have gone out and accumulated 10,000 registered voters then they no longer have to fulfill that 5%. They don’t have to worry about petitioning back on later, so they can work on building their parties from the ground up.” - Senator Laura Ebke
LB34 is supported by members of major and minor parties alike. The bill has been uncontroversial amongst constituents as well.
“Competition is a good thing; if you have more parties then you have more debate and discussion and more difference of opinion. It sharpens everybody’s arguments and makes it clear where they stand,” said Ebke.
Ebke, chair of the judiciary committee, finds that being a Libertarian has allowed her to “exercise a certain level of independence.” Her congressional colleagues welcome her, and her role in the legislature depends little on her party association.
Currently, third party candidates in Nebraska are forced to exhaust all their resources in one place just to maintain ballot status in statewide races. Ebke believes that they should have the chance to build their party up instead.
The bill is projected to hit the governor's desk by the end of the week. Senator Ebke is confident that it will become law.