The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony on two bills Jan. 28 that would place limitations on the process of initiating the recall of an elected official.
LB187, introduced by Omaha Sen. Brenda Council, would change the signature threshold for initiating a recall petition from 35 percent of the total vote cast for that office in the most recent general election, to 30 percent of all registered voters in the political subdivision, precinct, district or subdistrict of the official who is the subject of the recall petition.
Council said the threshold of signatures required to initiate a recall should be raised because it will help prevent a minority of voters in a political subdivision or those with vast resources from unduly influencing a recall drive.
“I think we need to preserve the integrity and fairness of the recall process,” she said.
As an alternative, Council also introduced LB188, which would maintain the current signature threshold for recall petitions, but only the signatures of individuals who voted in the election placing the official in office would be considered valid.
Under the current system, a very small minority of voters can negate the will of the majority of those casting ballots in an election, Council said.
“If you didn’t have a stake in [the process] by voting,” she said, “then you should not have a stake in determining whether someone else’s vote is potentially unraveled.”
Lynn Rex of the League of Nebraska Municipalities testified in support of both measures, saying the current system does not work well.
“It costs money and it divides communities for a very, very long time,” she said. “I think the process is broken when a relatively small number of people can undo what the majority did at the last election.”
Jeremy Aspen, a circulator in the recent recall petition drive against Omaha mayor Jim Suttle, testified in opposition to both bills. Raising the threshold for recall petitions or limiting who may sign one would damage the one tool citizens have to hold elected officials accountable between elections, he said.
Addressing LB188, Aspen said those who do not vote shouldn’t be discouraged from other forms of democratic participation, such as signing recall petitions. Furthermore, he said, the bill would punish those who were ill, recently moved or otherwise unable to vote in the previous election.
Jon Edwards of the Nebraska Association of County Officials also testified in opposition to LB188, saying some election commissioners expressed concern about creating an additional layer in the signature verification process.
The committee took no immediate action on either bill.