How nonpartisan voting works in Nebraska primary elections

Primary elections narrow the field of candidates ahead of a general election. Partisan races at the top of the ballot, such as the presidential race, receive a lot of attention in primary elections. As a result, it’s a common misconception that only voters registered with a political party can vote in primary elections.

Nonpartisan voters can vote in primary elections, but there is an extra step if they want to vote in partisan races.

 

Brief summary of nonpartisan voting

Additional information can be found below the informational graphics.

Nonpartisan voters will receive a nonpartisan ballot. Nonpartisan ballots include all nonpartisan races, such as a Board of Regents or Legislature race in their area.

Here’s the extra step: A nonpartisan voter can request a nonpartisan-partisan ballot.
(This is in addition to their original nonpartisan ballot.)

They have the choice between ONE of the following nonpartisan-partisan ballots:  

  • A nonpartisan-Republican ballot
    (Only the Republican U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives races)
  • A nonpartisan-Democratic ballot
    (Every Democratic partisan race – Federal, State, County races)
  • A nonpartisan-Libertarian ballot
    (Every Libertarian partisan race – Federal, State, County races)
  • A nonpartisan-Legal Marijuana NOW (LMN) ballot
    (Every LMN partisan race – Federal, State, County races)

For more information on why the nonpartisan-Republican ballot is limited, see “Why are some partisan primaries ‘open’ and others are not?” section below.

If a nonpartisan voter chooses to complete a nonpartisan ballot only, they might not have any races on their ballot. This can happen when there are no nonpartisan races up for election in their area. If the voter didn’t choose to complete a partisan ballot (the partial Republican ballot, the full Democratic ballot, the full Libertarian ballot, or the full LMN ballot), they won’t have any races on their ballot.

Below is a graphic that describes the primary ballot distribution for partisan and nonpartisan voters.

 

Below is a copy of Nebraska's early voting application. At the bottom of the page, a nonpartisan voter can request a nonpartisan-partisan ballot.

A picture of Nebraska's early voting application with the nonpartisan voting box highlighted.

 

Below is an in-depth explanation of the process.


How primary elections work for voters registered with a political party

In a primary election in Nebraska, a voter receives the ballot that corresponds with their registered political party. The recognized political parties in Nebraska are Republican, Democratic, Libertarian and Legal Marijuana NOW. For example, a voter registered with the Republican Party will receive a Republican ballot. The voter will find on that ballot partisan races, such as the presidential race and congressional races, along with all nonpartisan races, such as a city council race.

This is the process that happens with voters registered with the Democratic, Libertarian, and Legal Marijuana NOW parties as well.

 

How primary elections work for voters who are not registered with a political party

A nonpartisan voter will receive a ballot with all the nonpartisan races up for election in that voter’s area. There is a chance that no nonpartisan races are up for election in the voter’s area, and the voter won’t have any races listed on their nonpartisan ballot.

Nonpartisan voters have the option to vote in another party’s primary. They just need to request a nonpartisan-partisan ballot. A nonpartisan voter who requests a nonpartisan-partisan ballot for the party of their choice will get to vote in all nonpartisan contests and some or all partisan contests for the chosen party, as described below.

Nonpartisan voters can choose to complete ONE of the following nonpartisan-partisan ballots:  

  • A nonpartisan-Republican ballot
    (Only the Republican U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives races)
  • A nonpartisan-Democratic ballot
    (Every Democratic partisan race – Federal, State, County races)
  • A nonpartisan-Libertarian ballot
    (Every Libertarian partisan race – Federal, State, County races)
  • A nonpartisan-Legal Marijuana NOW (LMN) ballot
    (Every LMN partisan race – Federal, State, County races)

 

How to request a nonpartisan-partisan ballot

At the polls, nonpartisans can request a nonpartisan-partisan ballot when they check-in with the election workers. If a nonpartisan wants to vote by mail, they can make a request for a nonpartisan-partisan ballot on their early voting ballot application.

 

Why are some partisan primaries “open” and others are not?

The Democratic, Libertarian, and Legal Marijuana NOW parties regularly elect to open their primaries to other voters. Nonpartisan voters can choose to complete the full ballot in either the Democratic, Libertarian, or Legal Marijuana NOW primary.

The Republican Party has not elected to hold an open primary. That means only voters registered with the Republican Party can complete the full Republican primary ballot. However, nonpartisan voters can choose to complete a partial Republican primary ballot, which only includes U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. Nonpartisans cannot vote in the Republican presidential primary. This is explained further in the “Historical Context” section below.

 

Nonpartisan races

Many races in Nebraska are nonpartisan, such as those for Nebraska Legislature, State Board of Education, Board of Regents, school boards, city councils, natural resources districts, public power districts, community colleges, Learning Community Coordinating Council and Metropolitan Utilities District of Omaha. All Nebraska voters, including nonpartisans, have an opportunity to vote in those races and on ballot measures that are up for election in the voter’s respective area.

There are some primary elections where voters won’t have any nonpartisan races up for election in their area. For nonpartisan voters, that can mean receiving a blank ballot, unless they request a primary ballot from a specific political party.

 

Checking your party affiliation

Voters can check their voter registration information here to find which party they are registered with. Voters who wish to change their party affiliation will need to update their voter registration. Voters have until the second Friday preceding an election to update their political party in-person at their county election office and until the third Friday preceding an election using any other method (online, mailed application, DMV, etc.).

 

Historical context

Nebraska law states nonpartisan voters can vote in partisan races.

Neb. Rev. Stat. 32-912(3) states, “A registered voter who is not affiliated with a political party and who desires to vote in the primary election for the office of United States Senator or United States Representative may request a partisan ballot for either or both of such offices from any political party. The election commissioner or county clerk shall post a notice in a conspicuous location, easily visible and readable by voters prior to approaching the receiving board, that a registered voter who is not affiliated with a political party may request such ballots. No such registered voter shall receive more than one such partisan ballot.”

The law came into place following Tashjian v. Republican Party of Connecticut (107 S. Ct. 544 [1986]) where the US Supreme Court struck down Connecticut’s strict closed primary system and allowed political parties the option to open up the primary to nonpartisans. In 1987, the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office issued Opinion 87070 “The Legality of Closed Primary Elections in Light of Recent Decisions by the United States Supreme Court” on how that case impacted Nebraska.

The Qualifications Clauses of the US Constitution state:

Article I-2 Clause 1: The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

Amendment XVII, Clause 1: The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

Nebraska has only one state Legislative branch – the unicameral. The unicameral is also uniquely nonpartisan. Electors do not need to have a party affiliation to vote for state Legislature in the primary election. Because the electors in Nebraska can be nonpartisan and still vote for state Legislature in the primary election, they too must be able to vote for House of Representatives and Senate in the primary election. In light of Tashjian and AG Opinion 87070, the Legislature amended state election laws to allow nonpartisans to vote in partisan congressional primaries, resulting in the present-day language found in §32-912.

Beyond the requirement that nonpartisan voters be entitled to vote for congressional offices in the primaries, political parties also have the option to fully open their partisan primaries to nonpartisan voters.