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Bill to return Nebraska to winner-take-all Electoral College method comes up short

Bill to return Nebraska to winner-take-all Electoral College method comes up short

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LINCOLN — Republican lawmakers were frustrated once again Tuesday in their long-running battle to return Nebraska to a winner-take-all system for choosing presidential electors.

Legislative Bill 10 fell one vote short of the 33 needed to overcome a final-round filibuster, meaning the bill is dead for this year. The vote was 32-17.

Supporters of the bill vowed to try again next year, when the Legislature will have at least 11 new senators.

“It’s going to come back again and again and again until it passes,” said State Sen. John Murante of Gretna.

The outcome means Nebraska will remain one of only two states that allow their Electoral College votes to be split during this presidential election. The other state is Maine.

Returning to a winner-take-all system has been a priority for the state GOP since Nebraska abandoned that method in 1991.

LB 10 was Republicans’ 15th attempt — and 15th failure.

Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, who introduced LB 10, was philosophical about the outcome. He noted that, although the measure failed, it went down by the “thinnest of margins.”

“That’s politics. That’s the rules of the Legislature,” he said. “The Legislature has spoken on this issue for this year.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts said he would have liked the bill to pass but takes a “long-term perspective” on legislative proposals.

“I think we’ll continue to discuss it as we go forward,” he said. He had not taken an official position on the bill but was expected to sign it if it passed.

The 32-17 vote on a cloture motion to end the filibuster split largely along partisan lines.

All those voting for the motion were registered Republicans. Opposing it were the Legislature’s 12 Democrats and one nonpartisan senator, along with four Republicans.

The Nebraska Legislature is officially nonpartisan, which means that senators are elected and serve without regard to party affiliation. However partisan politics emerges at times, especially when elections are involved.

Two Republicans who voted for cloture, which allows a vote on whether to advance the bill, during second-round consideration switched their votes Tuesday:

» Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha said he has been on the fence. In the end, he said, he could not see any compelling reason to change Nebraska’s system.

He rejected arguments by winner-take-all supporters that awarding the state’s Electoral College votes in a block would attract candidates to rural areas.

He called leaving the system as is “the right thing to do to give the people of Nebraska a voice.”

» Sen. Tommy Garrett of Omaha said he was never a supporter of the winner-take-all measure and had concerns that it would reduce campaign spending in Nebraska.

He said he was trying to be a team player in the second round when he voted for cloture.

He rethought his vote after some conservative colleagues “left him hanging” on his bill to legalize medical marijuana, he said. That bill failed after Garrett could not get enough votes to end a filibuster.

For the past 25 years, Nebraska has awarded three of its five Electoral College votes on the basis of the popular vote in each of its three congressional districts. The two other votes go to the statewide winner.

The state has split its Electoral College votes only once: In 2008, the Omaha-area’s 2nd District vote went to Democrat Barack Obama while the rest of the state’s votes went to Republican John McCain.

LB 10 was introduced last year and faced a filibuster at every stage of its consideration.

Last year, supporters managed to break the first-round filibuster but fell short on second round. The measure returned for debate this year after being named a priority bill by Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha, who argued that Nebraska should follow the same procedure in awarding Electoral College votes as most other states.

On the other hand, Sen. Tanya Cook of Omaha, one of two African-Americans in the Legislature, said the current system reflects the differences among Nebraskans.

“This bill is a representation of us going backward,” she said.

World-Herald staff writer Emily Nohr contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9583, martha.stoddard@owh.com

How they voted

Yes (32): Baker, Bloomfield, Brasch, Coash, Craighead, Davis, Ebke, Fox, Friesen, Gloor, Groene, Hadley, Hilkemann, Hughes, Johnson, Kintner, Kolterman, Kuehn, Larson, Lindstrom, McCollister, McCoy, Murante, Riepe, Scheer, Schilz, Schnoor, Seiler, Smith, Stinner, Watermeier, Williams.

No (17): Bolz, Campbell, Chambers, Cook, Crawford, Garrett, K. Haar, Hansen, B. Harr, Howard, Kolowski, Krist, Mello, Morfeld, Pansing Brooks, Schumacher, Sullivan.

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