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Incumbent Senator Casts Tie-Breaking Ballot to Keep His Seat

February 20, 1991

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ With the incumbent casting the deciding ballot, the Nebraska Legislature rejected a proposal Tuesday to seat his challenger in a disputed Senate race.

Fifteen weeks after the election, lawmakers turned back an effort to unseat Sen. Dennis Byars, who has represented the 30th District in southeastern Nebraska since 1988.

At issue are 508 absentee ballots that election officials initialed, rather than signed as required by law. Counting them makes Byars the winner; excluding them gives Democratic challenger Paul Korslund victory.

Byars, a Beatrice Republican whose vote for himself after a 3 1/2 -hour debate prevented a tie on the matter, remains conditionally seated. On Wednesday, legislators were to take up a measure that would formally seat him.

″I didn’t feel elation after the vote,″ he said. ″I felt a certain sadness, sadness for the voters, as a matter of fact.″

The Legislature’s Executive Board had voted 6-3 to recommend lawmakers seat Korslund, also from Beatrice. The full Legislature rejected on a vote of 24-25 a motion to take that step.

″Even though it appears that I lost, I feel the Legislature has handled this in a very professional manner,″ Korslund said. ″I feel I got a fair shake.″

A request that the Executive Board obtain and count the disputed absentee ballots, and 95 regular ballots rejected by county election officials and never counted, also was to be considered by the Legislature on Wednesday, said Sen. Dennis Baack, speaker of the non-partisan, one-house Legislature.

If he loses, Korslund said he doesn’t think he’d appeal the matter to a federal court.

″I don’t know. I’ve been told I have an equal protection argument, but I don’t intend to pursue it,″ he said. ″I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the people, so this is it - until the next election.″

″I have respect for the body (Legislature) and what they went through″ on this issue, he said.

Lawmakers on both sides said they agonized over their votes.

Opponents of the move to seat Korslund contended that the constitution must be followed and absentee voting is a right.

Supporters said the issue is one of following statutes and absentee voting is a privilege.

″I’m going to vote for the voters this morning ... and not for the law,″ said Sen. LaVon Crosby, who spoke against the motion to seat Korslund.

Sen. John Lindsay, an Executive Board member who supported seating Korslund, said: ″Our society has always been a government of law and it must remain that.″

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