Attorney General: Appointment of Election Commissioner "constitutionally suspect"

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The Nebraska Attorney General released an opinion September 24th calling the appointment of an election commissioner "constitutionally suspect."

This comes after Civic Nebraska, along with Senator Matt Hansen of Lincoln, requested an opinion from the Attorney General on the constitutionality of the appointment. There is a portion of Nebraska State Law that allows for the appointment, but another that calls for the election of all county officials.

There are 7 counties that appoint, rather than elect, their election commissioners. Commissioners in Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy counties are appointed by the governor. Commissioners in Buffalo, Hall, Platte and Cass counties are all appointed by county boards.

Changing this ruling would affect a majority of registered voters in Nebraska.

"This would affect about 60 percent of Nebraska voters," said John Cartier, the director of Voting Rights at Civic Nebraska.

Election commissioners have three main jobs: to conduct federal state and local elections, to maintain local voter registration data and to recruit and train poll workers.

"Really what we want is for Nebraska voters to choose who is going to run their elections," said Cartier. "We didn't go into this thing lightly at all."

Cartier said this isn't a dig against election commissioners or a critique on how they're doing their job, but rather a constitutional violation that needs to be fixed.

"This is a non-partisan issue because all we're doing is looking at the Nebraska constitution, reading it as it should be and applying it to the current officials right now that are governing Nebraska elections," said Cartier. "You can't get more simple than that."

Civic Nebraska as well as Sen. Hansen have worked to get the Attorney General's opinion and now will work to get the bill on the senate floor by January. Cartier and Sen. Hansen agree, this change could be done before the 2020 election.

"It's going to be a quick turn around and maybe a tough timeline, but i think that should be the goal," said Hansen. "I felt the AG's opinion was very clear and direct and gives us an opportunity now before session to build up consensus."

Lancaster County Election Commission office declined comment, saying they were not comfortable making a statement at this time. Sarpy County Election Commissioner Michelle Andahl said, "Our office is aware of the release of the AG Opinion. Until we are advised to do otherwise, we will continue to serve the voters of Sarpy County in the fair, impartial and non-partisan manner that we always have and always will." Douglas County Election Commissioner did not return a call requesting comment.

Nebraska Secretary of State, Bob Evnen, released a statement today saying in part: “This and the election commissioner appointment statutes that followed have been the law of our State for more than a century... There were sound policy reasons supporting the enactment of the appointment statutes. They remain the law unless and until they are overturned by our courts, or legislation is enacted that changes these statues. I am committed to following the law, and I intend to continue to observe these long-standing statutes as long as they are in place.”

In the end, Cartier said it boils down to the Nebraska Constitution. Said Cartier:

"It's serious when you're looking at it from a constitutional sense, and that's the highest law in our land aside from the Federal constitution."