LINCOLN — Death penalty supporters need to have 113,883 valid signatures to suspend a law repealing capital punishment in Nebraska or 56,942 to put the issue on the ballot.
Secretary of State John Gale released the figures late Thursday. They equal 10 percent and 5 percent of the number of registered voters in the state as of the close of business.
Thursday was the deadline by which Nebraskans for the Death Penalty had to turn in signatures on its referendum petition. The petition seeks to undo a law, passed over the governor's veto in May, that eliminates the death penalty.
The group turned in 166,692 petition signatures Wednesday, enough to give it a 46 percent cushion. Typically, 15 percent to 25 percent of petition signatures are invalidated, either because a signer wasn't registered to vote or for other technical reasons.
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County officials could take more than a month to count and validate the signatures.
State Treasurer Don Stenberg, a former attorney general who was an honorary co-chairman of the petition group, and the Attorney General's Office said the signatures are presumed valid when they are turned in.
That means the repeal law, instead of going into effect Sunday, will be put on hold until the count is completed, they said.
Alan Peterson, an attorney for the ACLU of Nebraska, disagreed with that legal analysis Thursday.
But he said it probably won't make any practical difference because the state lacks the necessary drugs to carry out an execution via lethal injection, and he believes the Nebraska Supreme Court would not allow an execution date to be set before the vote.
The status of the law, however, could make a difference for defendants convicted of first-degree murder during the intervening months.
Danielle Conrad, spokeswoman for the anti-death penalty coalition Nebraskans for Public Safety, said the group will campaign to defeat the referendum and expects to be successful.
In a press release Thursday, Nebraska's three Catholic bishops re-emphasized their continuing support for an end to the death penalty.
"Other means are available to punish criminals and to protect society that are more respectful of human life," said the release.
World-Herald staff writer Paul Hammel contributed to this report.
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