Questions Loom in Battle Over Status of Death Penalty

It was a tough and emotional fight last May but in the end, state lawmakers repealed the death penalty in Nebraska. On Wednesday, more than 166,000 signatures were turned in by those behind the effort to "repeal the repeal" of the death penalty but nothing will be decided anytime soon.

Boxes filled with signatures gathered by the Nebraskan's for the Death Penalty were turned in at the capitol Wednesday.

Rob Edwards is with the group Nebraskans for the Death Penalty and he said, "We turned in 166,692 signatures, which is astounding."

But getting the repeal took decades and the group named Nebraska Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty called Wednesday a big setback.

Death Penalty opponent Matt Maly said, "It's certainly disappointing in a way. We were expecting that they probably would have enough signatures to get it on the ballot."

But how many signatures were needed? And just what do these signatures do?

The act of repealing a passed law before it goes into effect is unique in Nebraska. Five percent of signatures from voters across the state were needed to go on the November 2016 ballot. But if 10 percent are gathered, not only will it go on the ballot but it also stops the death penalty repeal from becoming law.

First the signatures have to be verified. Each box is sent to the county it came from and their county election officials verify each and every signature. That can take up to 40 days.

Both sides say if this goes through it means a long road ahead to November 2016.

Maly said, “The more people are exposed to information, the more likely they are to oppose the death penalty, really, because the facts are overwhelmingly on our side. So we will be out teaching people, informing the voters. We are not giving up."

Edwards said, “We believe Nebraskans will have the chance to vote on this. We believe Nebraskans want to vote on this and, more importantly, we are going to stay LB 268 until Nebraskans get to vote on this."

The law is set to go into effect Sunday. So what happens during this 40 day period of uncertainty? There are two sides. The Secretary of State’s office says, "The law repealing the death penalty in Nebraska goes into effect August 30."

But the Nebraska Attorney General released a statement Wednesday saying, "During this verification process the signatures submitted to the Secretary of State are presumptively valid until determined otherwise."