LINCOLN — Opponents of returning Nebraska to a winner-take-all system of awarding Electoral College votes far outnumbered supporters at a legislative hearing Wednesday.
But State Sen. Julie Slama of Peru, who introduced Legislative Bill 76, was undaunted in her quest to undo a system that has been in place for nearly three decades and has survived 16 previous attempts to get rid of it.
Under the system, Nebraska awards three of its five electoral votes based on the popular vote in each of its three congressional districts. The other two votes go to the statewide winner.
The state has split its electoral votes twice. The first time was in 2008, when the Omaha-area’s 2nd District went to Democrat Barack Obama and the rest went to Republican John McCain. Last year, the 2nd District vote went to Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate who went on to win the election, and the others to then-President Donald Trump, the GOP candidate.
Nebraska and Maine are the only states that allow their electoral votes to be split.
Slama said proponents of the split-vote system had argued that other states would follow their lead, but none have. Now it’s time for Nebraska to go back to the system used in 48 other states, she said, arguing that the nation’s founders wanted states, not portions of states, to elect the president.
She called the split-vote system unfair to Nebraska voters, because it means they only have a say in choosing three electors, rather than all five allocated to the state. In addition, she said the system encourages partisanship because the stakes are higher as lawmakers redraw congressional districts after each census.
“This is an entirely nonpartisan bill meant to take partisan politics out of redistricting,” she told members of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.
Opponents, however, argued that the system encourages voter interest and attracts more attention from presidential campaigns because the state’s votes are not locked up by one party. Republicans dominate statewide voter registrations, but are a smaller proportion of voters in the state’s urban areas.
Preston Love Jr., founder of Black Votes Matter, said he sees the move to do away with the split voting system as an effort to discourage Black and other minority voters. He noted that both times the state split its vote, the Omaha-area congressional district voted for Black candidates, including Obama and current Vice President Kamala Harris.
“It seems like you’re going away pouting because we got an electoral vote,” he said. “I feel as if the Legislature wants to step on my right to have my vote count.”
Former Sen. DiAnna Schimek of Lincoln, the chief architect of the current system, took issue with the idea that the proposed change would reduce partisanship in redistricting. She also said the U.S. Constitution gives states the power to determine how electors are chosen.
Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska, said the split vote system represents a compromise between the winner-take-all systems and doing away with the Electoral College entirely. Although other states have not adopted a split-vote system, several have voted for other Electoral College reforms, she said.
Ryan Hamilton, executive director of the Nebraska State Republican Party, testified in favor of the bill. Returning to a winner-take-all system has been a GOP priority since Nebraska abandoned that method.