Posted on November 6, 2008

Nebraska Voters Back Affirmative Action Ban

Matthew Hansen, Omaha World-Herald, Nov. 5, 2008

The voters have spoken, banning affirmative action in Nebraska.

Now the Nebraska Supreme Court might get its say.

With legal uncertainty over the petition drive that pushed Initiative 424 onto the ballot, the vote signifies the middle—not the end—of the fight to bar minority scholarships and other traditional race- and gender-based affirmative action programs.

Nebraska voters approved the constitutional amendment by a comfortable margin, sending California businessman Ward Connerly and the amendment’s other backers into celebration mode shortly after polls closed.

The constitutional amendment bars public agencies such as universities and city governments from considering race, gender and ethnicity when handing out contracts, hiring employees and awarding scholarships.


Initiative 424’s opponents think the vote could harm university attempts to lure minority students and might end a City of Omaha program that pushes some subcontracting work to small female-owned and minority-owned businesses. They also think it sends a bad message—that Nebraska isn’t a welcoming place for minorities.

But David Kramer, the director for Nebraskans United, which opposed the ballot measure, said he holds out hope that a Lancaster County District Court judge soon will declare the petition drive—and therefore Tuesday’s vote—invalid.


Kramer believes he has ample evidence of petition gatherers misleading signers about what Initiative 424 would do. If a petition gatherer committed some of those illegal acts, then all the signatures he or she gathered should be thrown out, he argues.

Judge Karen Flowers is expected to rule on the case soon. Either side could appeal to the state’s highest court.


Meanwhile, the University of Nebraska will start reviewing its programs that might violate the ban, said NU President J.B. Milliken.


“What’s going to change is some of the tools we have to promote diversity,” Milliken said. “What’s not going to change is our commitment. . . We think diversity is important to prepare our students . . . and it’s incumbent upon us to provide educational opportunity to as many Nebraskans as possible. That doesn’t change.”

What might change is the legality of Initiative 424. Its supporters vow to continue fighting to ensure it becomes Nebraska law.

“The people have spoken,” Tietz said. “That’s what America is about. Now it’s time to put this into the Constitution.”

Opponents of a measure to end preference programs for women and minorities in Colorado hold a razor-thin lead in late vote counting.

If it holds and Amendment 46 fails, Colorado would become the first state to defeat such a measure.

Similar measures, sponsored by a California millionaire, have passed in California, Michigan, Washington, Florida and, as of Tuesday, Nebraska.

Coloradans, however, were sharply divided over Amendment 46, with just 14,000 votes out of the nearly 2 million counted so far dividing the opponents and the supporters. Counting could continue for days.


“It looks like the voters in Colorado thought about this and understood what the truth is here and were not fooled by this trick,” said Melissa Hart, co-chair of No on 46.

“I am excited about the possibility that we might be the first state to say to (California backer Ward) Connerly that we are not interested in this deceptive initiative and that we stand for a different set of values,” Hart said. “We’re all stronger if each of us is stronger.”

Proponents of the measure believe voters were weary of ballot measures this year. They believe some voted no across the board. Others may have been confused because of the long ballot or failed to read Amendment 46. Proponents hinted that if the measure fails, they will try again. And, they celebrated receiving support from nearly 1 million Colorado voters.


Jennifer Gratz, director of state and local initiatives for Connerly’s group, the American Civil Rights Coalition, said she’s convinced that Coloradans would vote to end preferences and said her group will continue to work for an end to such programs.


Even if the measure goes down for the first time, Gratz said Connerly and their group would not be defeated.


Pollster and political analyst Floyd Ciruli said it’s striking that Colorado appears to be balking at a national trend.

“It’s fairly extraordinary,” Ciruli said. He recalled a parallel ballot initiative supported by out-of-state supporters who tried to mandate English as the state’s official language.


Ultimately, Ciruli believes, the massive turnout for Obama helped the opponents.

“They benefited from a good year. Some conservatives were negative about putting anything on the ballot. They also picked up the progressive audience who were voting for a black president.”