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The anti-death-penalty campaign group has asked the Nebraska Broadcasters Association to pull recent public service announcements from the secretary of state's office explaining the death penalty referendum.

The broadcasters group says it will not do that.

"We will not honor your demand to have the spots pulled from our member stations," said Nebraska Broadcasters Association executive director Jim Timm.

Retain A Just Nebraska sent a letter to the association Tuesday afternoon asking Chairwoman Joy Patten to immediately stop running the pair of announcements featuring Secretary of State John Gale.

The announcements, said Retain campaign manager Darold Bauer, inaccurately describe the choice before Nebraska voters.

"The current ad the secretary of state has produced is nothing more than a state-sponsored political ad, which violates the trust of the public, the intent of numerous campaign laws, and may be a violation of state and federal law," Bauer said.

The problem, said Retain spokesman Dan Parsons, is that the choices are described this way:

"A vote to RETAIN abolishes the death penalty.

A vote to REPEAL preserves the death penalty."

The Referendum No. 426 ballot language actually says: A vote to retain will eliminate the death penalty and change the maximum penalty for the crime of first-degree murder to life imprisonment.

The announcement misleads voters by failing to include the full explanation of the choice, Bauer said.

"This is not a harmless error," he said. "Decades of research has shown that voter opinion of the death penalty changes drastically based on whether or not the alternative of life in prison exists."

The 30-second version does not mention the Legislature voted to end the death penalty, which is the reason voters are addressing the issue, Bauer said.

In May 2015, the Nebraska Legislature abolished the death penalty and overrode a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts of the effort. A pro-death-penalty group got enough petition signatures to put the matter to a vote on Nov. 8.

The campaign was not contacted about the announcement prior to sending it to broadcasters. Previously, Gale's office worked closely with the Retain campaign on educational efforts, Bauer said.

The Broadcasters Association spot is airing on radio stations across Nebraska through Election Day. Bauer said many young people will not hear it there. Also, there is no Spanish language announcement.

And the announcement has missed more than 80,000 early voters, Bauer said.

Gale's spokeswoman Laura Strimple said the office could not respond to questions because of the possibility of a lawsuit from the Retain campaign.

"This is step one," Parsons said. "We just want this thing down because it's causing more harm than it is good."

Timm said that while the association respects the strong opinions on both sides, he is confident the messages are educational and not inaccurate.

Earlier, in publicizing the PSA, Gale said that aside from the presidential race, the referendum may very well be the highest profile issue on the statewide ballot.

“Based on turnout at recent public hearings, it is clear that Referendum No. 426 has the strong interest of the public, and demonstrates their desired interest to understand it,” he said in a news release.

See the language at sos.ne.gov.

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State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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