Increase in at-large city council members advanced

Senators amended and advanced a bill from general file April 30 that would allow certain cities to elect up to four city council members on an at-large basis.

LB299, sponsored by Hastings Sen. Les Seiler, would increase from three to four the number of council members who could be elected at large in a first class city, when at least four council members are elected by ward. The change would not apply to a city with a commissioner or city manager form of government.

State law classifies a city of the first class as one with a population between 5,001 and 100,000.

LB299 also would clarify procedures for how certain cities, villages, counties or school districts may place the question of nominating and electing members to their governing boards on a general election ballot.

Under the bill, the question of nominating and electing members by ward or at large could be placed on a general election ballot either by majority vote of the governing body or by petition of registered voters.

Omaha Sen. Rick Kolowski offered an amendment, originally introduced as LB417, that would require the secretary of state to develop and publish guidelines for election workers.

Most states have uniform election guidelines, Kolowski said, adding that the amendment would help ensure that voters are treated the same regardless of where in Nebraska they cast a ballot.

“This ensures consistency and provides smaller counties that may have fewer resources and less frequent elections the same quality of elections,” he said.

Gretna Sen. John Murante also offered an amendment to the Kolowski amendment, adopted 30-0, specifying that the guidelines are instructional in nature and not binding on an election commissioner or county clerk.

Murante said Nebraska election law provides a level of discretion to election commissioners and clerks regarding the conduct of elections because of the wide variation in counties. The amendment would preserve that flexibility, he said.

Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln supported both amendments, saying the guidelines would help the state avoid potential problems at polling places.

“Nebraska is one of only eight states that do not administer elections according to any published election guidelines,” he said.

Following adoption of the Kolowski amendment 34-0, senators advanced LB299 to final reading by voice vote.

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