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A campaign to gather signatures to allow voters to decide whether the death penalty should remain an option in Nebraska has passed the halfway point to the Aug. 27 deadline.

And although a spokesman says the campaign is pleased with the response to the petition drive, he has so far declined to provide specifics on the numbers of paid petition circulators and of how close they are to meeting their signature goals.

Spokesman Chris Peterson said the number of petition circulators fluctuates, depending on where the campaign emphasis is -- in rural areas or at county fairs, concerts and other events.

The campaign works with staffing agencies to hire petition circulators for short periods of time, he said.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty has hundreds of volunteers, he said, some of whom are good for about a dozen signatures and other more high-profile volunteers who have gathered 1,000 or more, such as Vivian Tuttle, the mother of Norfolk bank shooting victim Evonne Tuttle, and Teri and Kent Roberts, the parents of Andrea Kruger, who was killed by released prisoner Nikko Jenkins in 2013.

“We’re happy for any amount of time that anyone’s willing to give to collect any number of signatures to help us get a little bit closer to our goals,” he said.

Five weeks remain to gather the signatures -- 5 percent of voters in each of 38 counties to get the issue on the ballot in 2016, and 10 percent to stop the repeal of the death penalty (LB268) from going into effect.

Peterson said the campaign is pleased with the response to the petition drive, and is working to reach the goals of getting about 54,000 signatures for the ballot issue and around 115,000 to stop the repeal until the 2016 vote.

He said signature collection varies from county to county and community to community. Signatures have been gathered in 92 counties, with Sioux County in northwest Nebraska the only one with no representation.

A Norfolk radio station, Lite Rock 97.5, reported signatures had been collected in Madison County from 4,800 people, or about 15 percent of registered voters.

“We could always use more help and more money, because this is a very labor-intensive and expensive undertaking,” Peterson said.

There’s a lot of work left to do in the final five weeks to reach the target, he said.

Gov. Pete Ricketts and his father, Joe Ricketts, have been reported to be the main financial backers of the campaign. At the last filing with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty had raised nearly $244,000 from the governor and his father.

Contributors also included 10 others who donated $250 or more.

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Peterson declined to talk about fundraising until the next filing becomes public.

On the opposition side, Matt Maly of Nebraska Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, who is serving as a field director for the effort, said a number of groups have come together to support Nebraskans for Public Safety, including his group and the ACLU; the Nebraska Innocence Project; the League of Women Voters of Nebraska, Lincoln, Lancaster County and Omaha; the Notre Dame Sisters Omaha Province; and Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Former executive director of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Stacy Anderson, left that organization for a similar job in Colorado, Maly said. The group is seeking a new director.

“So we’ll continue to have a presence as long as necessary,” he said.

The role of the opponents is limited, he said, but they have been speaking out on the issue, running TV and radio ads and providing volunteers to observe petition circulators to ensure they are following the law.

The Decline to Sign campaign has an explanation of how to get a name removed from the petition if a signer changes his or her mind.

Peterson said there have been “blockers” at various places where circulators are collecting signatures, some more aggressive than others, ranging from handing out literature to verbally confronting a person signing a petition.

“Despite the fact that we’re 50 days into this, we have to be as diligent about following the rules, reading the object statement, and ensure every petition is done as right on day 50 as on day one,” he said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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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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