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Nebraska Votes To Bring Back The Death Penalty

A year after Nebraska's legislature abolished the state's death penalty, voters in the state successfully restored the punishment.

Posted on November 8, 2016, at 11:47 p.m. ET

Nate Jenkins / AP

Nebraska voters decided on Tuesday to bring back the death penalty in the state, more than a year after the legislature voted to repeal it.

When the legislature abolished the death penalty, overriding a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts last year, death penalty abolitionists held up the state as a sign that even conservative states could abandon the death penalty.

But Ricketts and his family bankrolled a campaign to allow voters the chance to bring the death penalty back, spending more than $400,000 to do so.

His bet paid off. On Tuesday, voters in Nebraska voted in favor of the death penalty by nearly 20 points.

Although the symbolic effect is legitimate, the practical effect could be minimal. Nebraska has just 11 inmates on death row, and the state hasn’t executed anyone in nearly 20 years.

The state has not ever carried out a lethal injection — its three executions in the modern era were all done using the electric chair. The state’s recent attempts at getting required execution drugs has met disastrous results.

Last year, in an attempt to convince lawmakers that the death penalty was salvageable, Rickett’s department of corrections purchased more than $50,000 of execution drugs from India. As BuzzFeed News reported, the drugs were illegal to import and were blocked from exiting India. What’s more, the man they purchased the drugs from has a history of selling states execution drugs even though his drugs never end up being used after legal questions are raised.

After the shipment was blocked, Nebraska attempted to get a refund on the money it spent. The supplier declined.

Republican Sen. Colby Coash, who voted to repeal the death penalty last year and was part of the anti-death penalty movement, said the referendum sparked "an important conversation" about the death penalty and that the "vote isn't the end."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.