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AP Decision Notes: What to expect in Nebraska’s presidential and state primaries

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Nebraskans will cast presidential primary ballots Tuesday in a reliably Republican state that could nonetheless be a decisive one in the race for the White House. Voters will also decide several contested state primaries, including the U.S. Senate, where both Republican incumbents are on the ballot.

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump should easily win their primaries, as they already unofficially secured their parties’ nominations on March 12. But Nebraska presents the latest opportunities for voters to cast protest votes against both presumptive nominees.

On the Republican side, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley continues to receive a sizable share of the vote despite ending her campaign in early March. Biden and Trump have won almost every contest this year by overwhelming margins, but the persistent protest votes with just a few weeks left in the primary season have raised questions about voter dissatisfaction with both candidates.

Biden has faced organized campaigns in several states to vote for “uncommitted” in protest of the war in Gaza. In Nebraska, though, the only options for those casting protest votes on the Democratic side are to vote for Rep. Dean Phillips or to write in a candidate, and the state only counts write-in ballots for candidates who have filed an affidavit and paid a filing fee before the election. None have done so.

Nebraska votes reliably Republican in presidential elections, but the state awards electoral college votes based on the vote in individual congressional districts. Biden won one of Nebraska’s five electoral votes in 2020 because he got the most votes in the state’s 2nd Congressional District.

Elsewhere on the ballot, Republican U.S. Sens. Deb Fischer and Pete Ricketts both face nominal opposition in their primaries, one of the rare occasions when both senators in a state are on the ballot at the same time. Fischer is seeking a third term, while Ricketts is running to complete the remaining two years of former Republican U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse’s term. Sasse resigned in 2023 to become president of the University of Florida. Ricketts, who had just completed two terms as governor, was appointed by the new Republican Gov. Jim Pillen to fill Sasse’s vacancy, and he now faces a required special election to serve out the term.

In Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, Republican U.S. Rep. Don Bacon faces a challenge from his right flank from Dan Frei, who previously ran for the seat in 2014. Bacon is one of 16 Republican members of Congress representing a district that Biden carried in 2020. The 2nd District, anchored in Omaha, delivered Biden one electoral vote under the state’s unique rules where each congressional district awards one electoral vote. That outcome prompted some Nebraska Republicans as well as national pro-Trump activists to call for changing state law to award all the state’s electoral votes to the statewide winner. Without the change, the 2nd District is expected to be hotly contested in the presidential race, in addition to race for the U.S. House seat.

Contested primaries will also be held in the 1st and 3rd Congressional Districts, as well as for several seats in the state’s non-partisan, single-chamber legislature.

Here’s a look at what to expect on Tuesday:

PRIMARY DAY

Nebraska’s presidential and state primaries will be held Tuesday. Polls close at 9 p.m. ET statewide.

WHAT’S ON THE BALLOT

The Associated Press will provide vote results for the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries, as well as contested primaries for both U.S. Senate seats, four U.S. House primaries and 15 state legislative primaries. Appearing on the Democratic presidential ballot are Biden, Dean Phillips and a write-in option. The Republican ballot features Trump, Nikki Haley and Perry Johnson, as well as the write-in option.

WHO GETS TO VOTE

Nebraska Republicans have a closed primary system, which means that only registered Republicans may participate in a Republican primary. Registered Democrats and independent or unaffiliated voters may participate in the Democratic primary.

DELEGATE ALLOCATION RULES

Nebraska’s 29 pledged Democratic delegates are allocated according to the national party’s standard rules. Six at-large delegates are allocated in proportion to the statewide vote, as are three PLEO delegates, or “party leaders and elected officials.” The state’s three congressional districts have a combined 20 delegates at stake, which are allocated in proportion to the vote results in each district. Candidates must receive at least 15% of the statewide vote to qualify for any statewide delegates, and 15% of the vote in a congressional district to qualify for delegates in that district.

In the Republican presidential primary, all 36 delegates at stake will be awarded to the winner of the statewide vote.

DECISION NOTES

In the presidential race, Biden and Trump are the favorites in their primaries as neither candidate faces credible challenges. The first indications that they are winning statewide on a level consistent with the overwhelming margins seen in most other contests held this year may be sufficient to determine the statewide winners. If organized protest votes materialize in either the Democratic or Republican primaries, it will probably be strongest in the Omaha area. Haley’s best performances in the campaign this year have come from states’ Democratic areas.

The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If a race has not been called, the AP will continue to cover any newsworthy developments, such as candidate concessions or declarations of victory. In doing so, the AP will make clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

Recounts are automatic in Nebraska if the vote margin is 1% of the total vote or less in races where more than 500 votes are cast. The AP may declare a winner in a race that is eligible for a recount if it can determine the lead is too large for a recount or legal challenge to change the outcome.

WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE?

As of April 1, there were about 1.2 million registered voters in Nebraska. Of those, 49% were Republicans and 27% were Democrats.

In the 2022 primaries, turnout was about 22% of more than 1.2 million registered voters in the Republican primary and about 8% in the Democratic primary. That year, about 39% of voters in the Republican primary and 65% in the Democratic primary cast their ballots before Election Day.

As of Thursday, a total of 116,343 ballots had been cast before primary day, about 54% in the Republican primary and 40% in the Democratic primary.

HOW LONG DOES VOTE-COUNTING USUALLY TAKE?

In the 2022 primaries, the AP first reported results at 9:03 p.m. ET, or three minutes after polls closed. The election night tabulation ended at 2:02 a.m. ET with about 95 % of total votes counted.

ARE WE THERE YET?

As of Tuesday, there will be 62 days until the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, 97 days until the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and 175 days until the November general election.

By ROBERT YOON
Associated Press

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