Although the legislature voted to repeal it months ago, the death penalty — or at least a fight over it — could be coming back to Nebraska.
Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, a group financed largely by Gov. Pete Ricketts, turned in almost 167,000 of signatures on Wednesday to the secretary of state. If the signatures are deemed valid and are gathered from a diverse enough pool of counties, the fate of the death penalty will be before voters in Nov. 2016.
Nebraskans for the Death Penalty announced that it had collected 166,692 signatures, according to a state senator that supported the effort.
From those signatures, the group needs to gather valid signatures of 5 percent of voters in the state — roughly 57,000 signatures. The signatures also need to be collected from 5 percent of voters in at least 38 of the 93 counties. If Nebraskans for the Death Penalty was able to collect valid signatures from 10 percent of the eligible voters, that would keep death penalty in place until the voters decide.
The legislature abolished the death penalty in May, over the objections — and the veto — of the governor. Since then, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to gather signatures to block the repeal or bring it back. Ricketts and his father gave $300,000 to the effort — roughly half of what the group ultimately raised, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.
Another group, Nebraskans for Public Safety, formed in response to support the repeal. Almost all of its money was raised from a Massachusetts-based progressive organization called Proteus Action League. Proteus gave Nebraskans for Public Safety $400,000, and has spent millions on anti-death penalty efforts in the past.
Regardless of how the death penalty referendum turns out, Ricketts believes he will still be able to execute the 10 men Nebraska has left on death row. In pursuit of that goal, Ricketts oversaw the purchase of $54,000 worth of lethal drugs — enough for hundreds of executions — from overseas. The FDA has said it would be illegal for the drugs to enter the United States as the drugs are not FDA-approved. Customs is expected to confiscate or turn away the shipment when it comes in.