LINCOLN, Neb. – The ACLU's Voting Rights Project, the ACLU of Nebraska, and Friedman Law Offices filed a lawsuit in federal court today challenging a Nebraska law that established an unconstitutional and impermissible burden for independent candidates to access the ballot. In the lawsuit, the ACLU charges that the state's burdensome system for non-major party candidates seeking to run for office is unconstitutional and asks the court to prohibit state officials from enforcing it in this year's elections. Nebraskans wishing to run for office as Independent candidates are saddled with an unusually high burden of over 100,000 signatures to secure ballot access due to a law passed in 2016.
The law dramatically increased the signatures required for ballot access, from 4,000 to 121,112, which is 10 percent of the registered voters entitled to vote for the office. This represents an increase of more than 3,000 percent and is the highest signature threshold in the country.
“Voting rights are the cornerstone of our democracy. Nebraska has a long and proud tradition of ensuring fairness in our elections and providing a level playing field for all candidates. In 2016 that changed when our State adopted the most extreme law in the country for independent candidates to access the ballot. This arbitrary increase serves no legitimate state interest, creates an unequal playing field giving an unfair advantage to partisan candidates, and denies Nebraska voters real choices when they head to the polls to select our state leaders," said Danielle Conrad, Executive Director ACLU of Nebraska.
The plaintiffs in the case are Kent Bernbeck of Elkhorn, who has filed to be considered an Independent candidate on general election ballot for state treasurer and Michael Warner of Lincoln, a registered voter who wishes to vote for Bernbeck but believes the high signature threshold will prevent him from being able to do so.
Laughlin McDonald, attorney for the plaintiffs, said, “This case is important to ensuring and upholding the high ideals of a vibrant democracy. Other than Nebraska, no state requires more than 3 percent of the signatures of the last gubernatorial vote for a statewide independent. This new 10 percent requirement makes it prohibitively expensive and essentially impossible for an Independent candidate to achieve ballot access. Nebraskans deserve better than a flawed system designed to limit the electoral choices that best reflect their individual interests.”