Civic Nebraska has moved to intervene in Attorney General Doug Peterson’s constitutional challenge to the appointment of county election officials in Nebraska’s largest counties.
Civic Nebraska, which has asserted the state Constitution intends for those county officers to be elected, filed the intervention motion Nov. 26 on behalf of a voter in Lancaster County, one of seven counties that have appointed election commissioners.
“It is the constitutional right of Nebraska citizens to choose the officials who run their elections,” said John Cartier, Civic Nebraska’s director of voting rights. “It is also the right of individual Nebraskans to have a say in the legal process that likely will determine how their elections will be administered for years to come.”
In September, Peterson issued an Attorney General’s Opinion on the practice of appointment, deeming it “constitutionally suspect.” Peterson then sued to ask the high court to resolve the matter.
However, the state Supreme Court directed the lawsuit to Lancaster County District Court after the AG’s office and the defendants – Nebraska’s secretary of state and the election commissioners in question – missed a Nov. 5 deadline to agree on a common set of facts related to the lawsuit.
Cartier said that when it comes to laws that govern Nebraska’s elections, individual voters have the same stake, if not greater, as the state. That is why Civic Nebraska is moving to intervene on their behalf, he said.
Civic Nebraska first considered challenging the appointment practice in 2012, following a dispute involving closures of several polling places in Douglas County, he said.
The statutes in question require counties that reach certain population thresholds to allow the governor or county boards to appoint county election commissioners. Election commissioners in three counties – Douglas, Lancaster, and Sarpy – are appointed by the governor, while county commissioners do the appointing in Buffalo, Cass, Hall, and Platte counties. The seven counties make up nearly two-thirds of the state’s registered voters.
Civic Nebraska asserts that these statutes are in violation of Article IX, Section 4 of the Nebraska Constitution, which discusses “necessary county officers” and plainly states that those officers are to be chosen by voters.
Civic Nebraska raised the constitutional issue in a June letter to the attorney general. In that letter, Civic Nebraska cited two previous state attorney general opinions as well as established case law to justify a constitutional challenge.
State Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln officially requested Peterson issue a formal opinion on the matter.