Nebraska: Should the Clerk of the Court be elected on a partisan ballot? Bill would replace with nonpartisan elections

Roughly half of the clerks of court for the general jurisdiction trial courts are elected either in partisan or nonpartisan races. In recent years, most notably in Maryland in 2011, efforts were made to change the method of selection to a nonpartisan one. This year two bills are being debated in Nebraska to that end.

First, some background.

Clerks of the Nebraska District Courts are elected on partisan ballots. Since at least the 1970s county residents have been able to gather signatures and put the question of election/appointment by District Judges on the ballot but it doesn’t appear that has occurred, or successfully adopted, in any of Nebraska’s 93 counties.

Since a 1996 law recodified several existing selection laws into the modern statute, there have been several efforts to end the practice of electing clerks on a partisan basis.

  • The first track has been focused on ending election for Clerks altogether and providing they be appointed by the District Judges (LB 994 of 1996; LB 507 & LB 817 of 1997; LB 414 of 1999; LB 348 of 2001; LB 751 of 2003; LB 529 & LB 1096 of 2005).
  • The second track focused instead on moving the positions to a nonpartisan footing, possibly along with other county officials, after a county referendum. (LB 96 of 1999; LB 186 and LB 214 of 2011; LB 241 of 2013)  would have moved the elections to nonpartisan ones, but only smaller counties (i.e. fewer that 10,000-50,000 people).

This year there are two efforts

  • LB 140 provides that for primary elections in counties below 10,000 only candidates for the Clerk of the District Court and other specified county offices would be without party affiliation
  • LB 273 more closely mirrors the prior second-track bills allowing for county voters or the county government in counties with a population below 10,000 (amended to 20,000) to put a referendum on the ballot to make races for the Clerk of the District Court and other specified county offices to nonpartisan ones.