Party registration switch ahead of Nebraska primary accelerates as GOP picks up 8,400

Democrats and nonpartisans lost about 8,200 registered voters over past two months

By: - May 3, 2022 5:36 pm

Wall art at the Douglas County Election Commissioner’s Office. (Cate Folsom/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — The switch in political party affiliation — likely fueled by a desire to vote in the hotly contested Republican primary race for governor — has increased in Nebraska, according to the new figures released Tuesday.

The Nebraska GOP has picked up more than 8,400 members over the past two months, including about 6,400 more just during the month of April, according to figures from the Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office.

The increase in Republicans compares to a loss of  5,625 registered Democrats during that period and 2,631 fewer voters registered as nonpartisan — a total of 8,256.

Over the past two months, total voter registration increased only 595 voters.

Switch called sensible

John Hibbing, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln political science professor, said it is only “sensible” that Democrats and nonpartisans would want to vote in the tight, three-way race between University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen, Falls City businessman Charles Herbster and State Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha.

“I don’t think it means they’re being disloyal,” Hibbing said of Democrats who switched. “(But) the odds are extremely strong that the winner of the Republican primary is going to be the next governor.”

Nebraskans last elected a Democrat as governor in 1994, when then-Gov. Ben Nelson defeated Gene Spence in a landslide for re-election.

In order to vote in the Republican primary, voters had to be registered Republican by the deadline on Monday. Voters registered nonpartisan are allowed to vote in the Democratic primary, a decision made by the Democratic Party, but Republicans do not allow nonpartisans to vote in its primary without registering with the GOP.

Hibbing said most of those switching to the GOP are likely doing so to vote for Lindstrom, who has been perceived as the most moderate of the three top Republican candidates. Some, he said, might also be switching to vote for Pillen, who operates a series of hog farms out of Columbus.

The political science professor said he doubted that any of those switching parties will be voting for Herbster, who runs Conklin Co. Hibbing said that given the reporting of the last month, in which eight women have alleged that Herbster groped them, he doubted that Democrats and independents would switch to the Republican Party to vote for him.

Herbster and Pillen have also battled for standing as the most conservative candidate in the race.

The number of independents and Democrats switching over could make a difference in a close primary race, political consultant Perre Neilan has said, pointing out that Gov. Pete Ricketts won his first GOP gubernatorial primary, in a six-way race, by only 2,300 votes.

Temporary shift anticipated

Jane Kleeb, the chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, issued a statement Tuesday saying that “unlike when Republicans who left their party after the insurrection and never came back, some Democrats temporarily have left the party in hopes to stop the worst of the radical Republicans running for governor.”

“We are confident they will be back as Democrats the day after the primary,” Kleeb said, pointing out that none of the GOP candidates support abortion rights.

In a tweet earlier Tuesday, Kleeb suggested that the new GOP voters write in the name of Bellevue Sen. Carol Blood, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, in the primary.

Final voter registration figures

Republican                       602,410

Democrat                          346,526

Nonpartisan                      268,136

Libertarian                           18,267

Legal Marijuana NOW         2,333

Total                            1,237,672

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.