Independent voters force to be reckoned with

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Nebraskans have had an independent streak since the days of John Holbrook Powers' ill-fated 1892 run for governor on the People's Party ticket.

Like Powers, third-party candidates have had little success in actually taking office -- a Democrat was finally declared the winner in 1892, sending "Honest John" back to his homestead in Hitchcock County.

But that independent, nonpartisan streak survives, most notably in the officially nonpartisan Unicameral, championed by McCook's own Sen. George W. Norris, and in the latest voter registration figures from the Secretary of State. Ben Nelson carried on the tradition, with a few notable exceptions, as one of the most conservative Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

While turnout has been disgracefully low in recent years, more and more of us are registered to vote -- just not as Republican or Democrats.

As an Associated Press story in Monday's Gazette noted, there are now about 373,300 Democrats in Nebraska, down 20,000 from 2008. The number of Republicans is down as well, although just slightly, 557,000.

Final figures from Friday's deadline are not yet in, but about 1.16 million Nebraska voters are registered this year, up from 1.09 million in 2000.

The growth has gone to those registered as "nonpartisan," nearly 227,000, two thirds of the number of Democrats and about half of the number of Republicans.

The Tea Party movement, a response to dissatisfaction with the major parties and gridlock in Congress, can be credited with the shift.

In Nebraska, independents are more likely to vote Republican, as that party shifts toward the right to attract their votes.

Many voters claim to be influenced more by the candidate than the political label, but the growing independent registration seems to make that especially true in Nebraska.

While it's too often true that a vote for an independent candidate turns out to be a vote for a candidate at the opposite end of the political spectrum, the number of voters who register neither Democrat or Republican is growing into a force to be reckoned with.

Secretary of State John Gale expects voter turnout to be boosted by increasing levels of early voting. "While convenience is a factor, early voting shows people have been paying attention and are ready to vote."

Registered voters have until 4 p.m. Wednesday to request early voting ballots to be mailed. Monday, Nov. 5, is the deadline for in-person early voting at county election offices for registered voters.

The close of polls Tuesday, Nov. 6, is the deadline for the return of early voting ballots to county election offices, including ballots returned by mail.

Gale noted that early voting mail-in ballots have as high as a 4 percent rejection rate because the envelopes aren't signed, are signed by someone else, sent in a wrong envelope or returned due to no postage. He urged early voters to be careful to follow the rules and make their ballots count.

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