LINCOLN — There have been at least 10 unsuccessful attempts at overturning Nebraska's unique system of awarding its Electoral College votes for president by congressional district.
And, as a legislative filibuster against the latest attempt to return Nebraska to a winner-take-all system droned on Wednesday morning, it appeared more and more likely that 2014 would be the latest failed effort.
“It's 'good night Irene' for this bill. There will not be a vote on it,” said State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha.
Chambers, a registered independent, has pledged an all-out filibuster against Legislative Bill 382, which has sparked a partisan political debate about how best to gain presidential campaign attention for a small state like Nebraska.
The bill would have the state join the 48 states that award all electoral votes to the presidential candidate who gains the most votes statewide.
Right now, Nebraska and Maine are the only states that award their electoral votes to the top vote-getter in each congressional district.
It's been that way in Nebraska since 1991, though then-Gov. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, has twice vetoed Republican-backed bills, in 1995 and 1997, that would have returned the state to a winner-take-all system.
Fremont Sen. Charlie Janssen, a GOP candidate for governor, introduced the latest attempt to overturn the state's unique system.
Janssen said dividing up the state's electoral votes diminishes the state's already small electoral clout, encourages gerrymandering of congressional districts along political party lines and hasn't worked to drum up more interest in Nebraska from presidential candidates and campaigns.
“That claim hasn't been realized in any great measure,” he said.
But Democrats in the Legislature disputed that, pointing to President Barack Obama, who opened a campaign office in Omaha in 2008 and won the lone electoral vote in the 2nd Congressional District, becoming the first Democrat to win an electoral vote in Nebraska since 1964.
Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford argued Wednesday that Nebraskans like to be unique, as they are with their one-of-a-kind nonpartisan, Unicameral Legislature, and that the current system has increased participation and voting in presidential races.
“Someone has to come up with a good reason why Nebraska has to be like everybody else,” Ashford said. “We are by nature independent as a people.”
Getting rid of Nebraska's current system has been a long-running goal of the state's Republican Party. The bill has the support of Republican Gov. Dave Heineman.
One Democrat in the Legislature, Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, said Wednesday that if Nebraska's system was adopted by other states, it would likely hurt his party's presidential candidate. For instance, he said, Obama would have lost 11 electoral votes in California in 2008, instead of winning all 55 of its electoral votes, making his national margin of victory smaller.
Avery, though, said he still opposes LB 382.
Legislative debate is expected to move on to other bills on Thursday, and it appeared doubtful that Janssen has the 33 votes needed to end the filibuster.
He would need to convince some Democrats to join his cause, which appears unlikely. The makeup of the Legislature stands at 30 Republicans and 18 Democrats. Chambers is a registered independent.