After a wild week of weather that included a tornado warning and freezing temperatures within a span of 13 hours, it may be hard to tell what season it is. However, with the recent influx of campaign yard signs and consistent inundation of political ads, one thing is clear: it’s election season in Nebraska.

Of course, the general election is not until November, but for many statewide elections, the most important day is less than a month away.

On Tuesday, May 10, Nebraska voters will have the opportunity to vote in a number of important elections, though none loom as large as the Republican gubernatorial primary.

In a state as heavily Republican as Nebraska — which has 595,970 registered Republicans and only 350,0364 registered Democrats according to the Secretary of State’s office — it is likely that the winner of the Republican primary will become the next governor of Nebraska.

This doesn’t mean it is impossible for a Democratic challenger to win the state, though. Democrat Ben Nelson was governor of Nebraska from 1991 through 1999 and in Kansas, a state with similar conservative demographics, Democrat Laura Kelly defeated Republican Kris Kobach in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

Still, it remains an uphill battle for any Democrat to win statewide office in Nebraska and the most competitive election for GOP governor hopefuls remains the primary.

Current Governor Pete Ricketts won the Republican primary election in 2014 by just a little more than 2,000 votes over his nearest competitor before winning the general election in November over his Democratic challenger by a margin of more than 96,000 votes. The Republican primary can be a dogfight, but it generally becomes more smooth sailing once a candidate becomes the sole elephant in the room.

It makes sense, then, that many of the candidates, particularly on the Republican side, are spending so much money on ad campaigns for the May primary. Despite the importance of the primary for the candidates, a majority of Nebraska voters don’t seem to view it the same way.

During the last Nebraska gubernatorial primary election, the statewide turnout was only 24.3%, a number which includes primary voters in all parties in the state.

Voters in the Omaha metro area voted at an even lower rate than the state average, with a turnout of 20.9% in Douglas County and 20.3% in Sarpy County in the 2018 primary. Lancaster County had a turnout of just over 25%.

This low turnout is unfortunate, not only because fewer people are involved in the most important duty of democracy, but also because it results in a skewed sample of Nebraska residents who select the next top executive in the state.

The difference between the targeted primary voters and the state at large becomes clear when comparing the primary topics in the candidates’ ads with the topics that a 2022 Lee Enterprises survey found were most important to the 900 Nebraskans sampled.

In their campaign ads, Charles W. Herbster vows to “protect Nebraska children” from critical race theory, Jim Pillen promises to fight Joe Biden’s “open gate” immigration policy and Brett Lindstrom’s daughter touts the state senator’s desire to cut taxes. All three of the leading candidates in the governor's race oppose critical race theory, illegal immigration and want to cut taxes to varying degrees, but these aren’t necessarily the issues that Nebraskans care about, according to the Lee Enterprises survey.

Instead, the survey found that attracting and retaining workers, affordable housing and school funding were the top priorities of Nebraskans among a dozen topics participants were asked to rate in importance on a scale from one to 10. Property taxes were ranked as the eighth most important — one slot below climate change — and abortion, either protecting or limiting access, was ranked as the 11th most important, only ahead of tourism and recreation.

However, I have yet to see any campaign ads about the candidates’ plans to attract workers to the state or increase affordable housing. If the survey is accurate, it would follow that candidates are either running ineffective ad campaigns or there is a recognition that the issues which get people to the polls for a Republican primary are distinct from what concerns Nebraskans as a whole.

With a turnout of less than a quarter of eligible voters in the last primary, it is clear something needs to change. Herbster, the current frontrunner in the race, is accused of groping eight women, among other scandals, but could easily win the nomination by securing a third of the vote in an election involving less than a quarter of registered voters. Ricketts won his 2014 primary with fewer than 60,000 votes — less than 3.2% of the state’s population at the time.

If you aren’t registered to vote already, there is still time to register, even for college students who live out of state who wish to change their registration to vote in Nebraska. For more information, you can check out this resource from Civic Nebraska, which walks you through the voter registration process in Nebraska, specifically for the 2022 primary election.

If you care about the future of the state, even if you happen to lean on the liberal side of the political spectrum, it may be worth voting in the Republican primary to ensure that your voice sends the strongest message in selecting the future top executive in Nebraska. And if you need suggestions on how to stay informed in the race my colleague wrote just the piece for you back in February.

The choice of a governor is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements pandering to the political extremes.

Brian Beach is a junior journalism major. Reach him at brianbeach@dailynebraskan.com