Nebraska’s system of awarding a single electoral vote to the winner of each of its three congressional districts has long been a thorn in the side of the state’s Republicans.
On Tuesday, it was again evident why, with former Vice President Joe Biden claiming the Omaha area’s electoral vote, adding a crucial tally mark to the Democrat’s column in the race for the presidency.
The 2nd District last went to a Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama won it and the presidency.
Since Nebraska adopted the proportional system in 1991, state GOP lawmakers have tried and failed at least 16 times to pass legislation that would return the state to a winner-take-all system, World-Herald archives show.
No specific plan is in the works to attempt to change Nebraska’s system, said Ryan Hamilton, executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party. But the issue has long been a legislative priority for the party, he said Wednesday.
Nebraska has a total of five electoral votes. Two are awarded to the statewide winner of the popular vote. The three others are awarded to the winner of each of the state’s three congressional districts.
Republican President Donald Trump won the statewide vote by nearly 20 percentage points, based on vote tallies posted Wednesday. That means, for 2020, Trump will pick up four electoral votes, two for the state’s popular vote and two for the state’s 1st and 3rd Districts.
Biden will get one electoral vote for the Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District. Biden’s margin of victory over Trump was more than 6 percentage points in the 2nd District.
Hamilton said the proportional system is based on “arbitrary lines” that divide the congressional districts and encourages gerrymandering. Nebraska should adopt the system used by 48 other states and award all its electoral votes based on the statewide popular vote, he said. Maine also awards electoral votes by congressional district.
If the state Republican Party is unable to change the system through the Legislature, Hamilton floated the possibility of trying to get the issue on a statewide ballot to allow voters to decide.
“We know a vast majority of Nebraskans would support it, given how many of them are shut out of the process,” Hamilton said.
Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, said Wednesday that her party would fight any attempt to end the way Nebraska and Maine allocate electoral votes.
“Quite frankly, all states in the country should be following our lead on the way that we do our electoral votes,” she said. “By splitting our electoral votes, we make the state more competitive and are able to draw in the candidates to come and speak with voters.”
Then-Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, a GOP sponsor of a winner-take-all bill in Nebraska in 2015, argued that the Republican-dominated state is at a disadvantage by not awarding all of its Electoral College votes to the statewide winner. Another senator said that winner-take-all systems reflect the will of the majority of voters.
A GOP effort in the Nebraska Legislature to change the state’s system leading up to the 2016 election failed, as did the most recent attempt in 2017.
In 2011, party leaders threatened to withdraw financial support for any Republican state senator who voted against the measure.
Critics of winner-take-all have said it reduces campaign interest in states like Nebraska, which are dominated by a single political party. Candidates from both parties are more likely to devote campaign time and resources in Nebraska under the current system, they’ve said.
The Legislature would most likely require 33 supportive state senators to overcome a filibuster of such a proposal.
World-Herald staff writer Aaron Sanderford contributed to this report.
Nebraska on Election Day 2020
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