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The Antelope

The Antelope

Special election pushes college students to engage from afar

Voter ballot

Campaign season has come early for Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District after the March conviction of former U.S. Congressman Jeff Fortenberry in federal court. Set for June 28, the special election will be the first for a batch of new voters far from home.

Fortenberry was convicted of three federal offenses including one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators.

“After learning of illegal contributions to his campaign, the congressman repeatedly chose to conceal the violations of federal law to protect his job, his reputation and his close associates,” said United States Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison in a Justice Department press release. “The lies, in this case, threatened the integrity of the American electoral system and were designed to prevent investigators from learning the true source of campaign funds.”

Candidates from both major parties have been nominated for the June affair, which is set to take place the same day as Fortenberry’s sentencing hearing in a Los Angeles-based federal court. Republican nominee Mike Flood of Norfolk and Democratic candidate Patty Pansing-Brooks of Lincoln will vie for the position. 

While this may be many students’ first special election, younger students are about to engage in the first election of their lifetime.

For these students 100 miles away from their home district, the physical distance between UNK’s campus and the 1st District could pose a barrier to the turnout of a population that already historically falls below national average voting rates.

According to data from the UNK Fall Enrollment Headcount and the U.S. Census Bureau, students from the 1st Congressional District’s counties only make up as much as 19.4% of the Nebraska resident population of UNK, despite the district encompassing 33.7% of the state’s population. These percentages may be even lower when the partial-district counties of Polk and Sarpy are considered. UNK has the smallest concentration of 1st District students across the NU system.

Compared to their peers at UNL, which resides inside the 1st District, UNK students will have less opportunity to engage in the campaign. 

“You have to make a conscious effort to see what’s going on in your community and the types of things that would impact that,” said Temo Molina, a political science major whose hometown of Stanton lies within the contested district. “You’re farther removed from your community, so there’s that physical aspect of it, but then there’s also the time aspect as a college student.”

Students now have more opportunities than ever to engage from afar thanks to social media campaigns and online donation drives. 

Students looking to vote from outside the district have until June 17 to request an early voting ballot. For more information, students should consult their county courthouse or visit the Nebraska Secretary of State’s website at

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