LINCOLN, Neb. (Lincoln Journal Star) Nebraska’s growing ranks of Libertarian voters could see more of their candidates on local ballots if a proposal that is working its way through the Legislature succeeds.Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete

The bill would allow any political party with 10,000 or more registered voters to remain recognized in the state, regardless of how its candidates perform in statewide elections.

In recent years, Libertarians have been forced to run “sacrificial lamb” candidates for statewide offices in hopes of securing 5 percent of the vote, the minimum threshold for the party to maintain its officially recognized status.

“If this passes, that whole sacrificial lamb mentality goes away and we can focus on growing the party,” said Gene Siadek of Omaha, treasurer of the Libertarian Party of Nebraska. “We can maybe focus on elections that might be more winnable for us.”

Sponsored by Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete, the proposal (LB34) received first-round approval Wednesday on a 30-0 vote.

The change would apply to any third party that qualifies, but so far the Libertarians are the only ones who come close.

Their party has hit some major milestones in the past year, including Ebke’s decision to ditch the GOP and register as a Libertarian. She became the state’s highest-ranking Libertarian elected officeholder and the only Libertarian in the officially nonpartisan Legislature.

Last fall, the party topped 10,000 registrants for the first time, which Siadek attributed in part to Ebke’s switch and also to Donald Trump securing the Republican presidential nomination.

And this year, the party submitted its first financial statement to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission after exceeding $5,000 in donations for the first time.

“We’re creating kind of a foothold,” Siadek said.

The Libertarian Party has lost and restored its official status at least twice over the years, most recently in 2010. Under state law, the only way a party can regain the right to register voters and put candidates on the ballot is to gather thousands of petition signatures.

The threat of losing certification again has compelled Libertarians such as Mike Knebel of Bellevue to run long-shot campaigns for statewide offices such as treasurer or secretary of state every four years.

Knebel, a former chairman of the state Libertarian Party, spent much of his own time and money campaigning for state treasurer in 2014. He lost, but managed to get enough votes to protect the party’s status until at least 2018.

He says he would have preferred to focus his energy on a more winnable local race, such as city council or school board.

“Now we can really focus on a lot of the local candidates and the local issues,” he said.

Ebke’s proposal met no opposition from the state’s two major political parties during a public hearing March 9. Members of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee voted 7-0 to advance it to the full Legislature.

“I think it’s valuable for the citizens of Nebraska to have more options than the two major parties,” said Sen. John Murante of Gretna, the committee’s chairman.

Ebke said the change would allow Libertarians to “build from the ground up,” but sees little threat to Republican domination in statewide politics.

“Nebraska is a red state, and it’ll probably be a red state for a long, long time.”

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