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Three state senators emerged Monday as potential candidates for secretary of state in the wake of John Gale's announcement that he will not seek re-election in 2018.

Sens. Jim Smith of Papillion and John Murante of Gretna are possible Republican candidates for the post that Gale has held since December 2000.

Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln is viewed as a potential Democratic candidate.

Lincoln attorney Bob Evnen, a former member of the State Board of Education with deep ties in the Republican Party, has long been considered to be a potential GOP candidate if Gale decided to step down after 18 years as the state's chief election officer.

"I think there are many potential candidates out there who will be interested in this job if I don't run," Gale said. "This will give them a chance to file in plenty of time to run in the May 2018 primary."

Gale was appointed by former Gov. Mike Johanns to fill a vacancy in the office in December 2000 and subsequently won four elections to four-year terms.

During those years, Gale said, he has been most proud of "the conduct of statewide elections being smooth, reliable, fair, accessible, accountable, transparent and secure."

Murante, chairman of the Legislature's Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, said he will "give serious consideration" to the possibility of seeking the office in 2018. Murante would be at the mid-point of his second and final four-year legislative term.

"I think I have a record of having a tremendous amount of expertise in election law and policy," Murante said. Those are subjects that come before his legislative committee.

Murante is sponsor of a proposed constitutional amendment that would clear the path for adoption of voter photo ID requirements in Nebraska and a bill that would return the state to a winner-take-all system of awarding all of Nebraska's presidential electoral votes to the statewide victor.

Three of the state's five electoral votes now are awarded to the winner in each of the state's congressional districts. 

Smith, who will complete his second and final term in the Legislature at the end of 2018, said he has made no decisions about his political future.

"I'm sorting out plans for what I may do after the Legislature," he said, while acknowledging that he has indicated "some interest" in the office of secretary of state in the past. 

Smith is chairman of the Legislature's Revenue Committee.

Morfeld, who is serving his first term in the Legislature, noted that he has expressed interest in serving as secretary of state at some point in the future, but he declined comment at this time.

Gale's departure opens up a second state constitutional office in the 2018 election that will be free of an incumbent. Republican State Treasurer Don Stenberg will be term-limited out of office after the end of next year.

Gale practiced law in North Platte for 29 years before becoming secretary of state. He was Republican state chairman in 1986. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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