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Nebraska To Abandon District Method For Electoral Vote Allocation?

Nebraska legislators are currently debating a bill that would end the state’s practice of awarding at least a portion of its Electoral Votes based on who wins each of the state’s three Congressional Districts:

Nebraska legislators are weighing a bill that would reinstate a “winner-take-all” system of awarding presidential electoral votes.

The state’s unicameral legislature is in its second day of debating a bill that would scrap Nebraska’s two-decade-old system of awarding one electoral vote per congressional district and two electoral votes to the statewide winner. Nebraska, which has three districts and five electoral votes, and Maine are the only two states that eschew the winner-take-all system and use this district-based system instead.

Nebraska has voted Republican in 12 consecutive presidential elections and that party’s presidential nominee has carried every congressional district in four of the five elections using the district system of allocating electoral votes. The only electoral vote “split” came in 2008, when Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama carried the Omaha-based 2nd District while losing the statewide vote.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Charlie Janssen, says the current system “diminishes the state’s already small electoral clout, encourages gerrymandering of congressional districts and hasn’t worked to drum up more interest in Nebraska by presidential candidates and campaigns,” the Omaha World-Herald reported yesterday.

“That claim hasn’t been realized in any great measure,” Janssen said.

Opponents contend the bill would make Nebraska less relevant in presidential elections and shrink citizen engagement in state politics.

“You can just say goodbye to your presidential visits,” Sen. Burke Harr said during debate yesterday.

Of course, with just five Electoral Votes and a population of less than two million people, Nebraska is unlikely to be considered a Presidential battleground regardless of whether we continue under the Electoral College or move to a system where Presidents are selected by nationwide popular vote.

Interestingly, there is a definite partisan breakdown when it comes to support for the bill:

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.

As I recall,  a bill similar to this was debated between the 2008 and 2012 elections and ultimately rejected. It appears that this effort will sufer a similar fate.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    Opponents contend the bill would make Nebraska less relevant in presidential elections and shrink citizen engagement in state politics.

    Aren’t we already there?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. oldgulph says:

    A survey of Nebraska voters showed 67% overall support for a national popular vote for President.

    Support by political affiliation was 78% among Democrats, 62% among Republicans, and 63% among others.

    By congressional district, support for a national popular vote was 65% in the 1st congressional district, 66% in the 2nd district (which voted for Obama in 2008); and 72% in the 3rd District.

    By gender, support for a national popular vote was 76% among women and 59% among men.

    By age, support for a national popular vote, 73% among 18–29 year-olds, 67% among 30–45 year-olds, 65% among 46–65 year-olds, and 69% among those older than 65.

    In a 2nd question with a 3-way choice among methods of awarding electoral votes,
    * 16% favored the statewide winner-take-all system (i.e., awarding all five electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most votes statewide)
    * 27% favored the current system
    * 57% favored a national popular vote

    Support by political affiliation for a national popular vote was still 65% among Democrats, 53% among Republicans, and 51% among others.

    NationalPopularVote

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  3. gVOR08 says:

    Of course it would be churlish to speculate that the Nebraska GOPs are in any way motivated by that one electoral vote for Hillary. Or the Dems. Hey, we have an actual case of both sides do it!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. grumpy realist says:

    Still have a soft spot in my heart for Nebraska, having lived there for some time after my little adventure in Great Britain. At least Nebraska has SUN.

    But–well, yeah, there’s not much there there. Soybeans. Corn. Buffalo. Cattle. And miles and miles of nothing. Quite a few Nebraskans run spooked from new ideas. The concept of looking for markets outside the state terrifies some of them, let alone the concept of selling outside the country. Nope. We’ve always done it way X, we’re always going to continue that way…..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  5. oldgulph says:

    @gVOR08: Republican legislators seem quite “confused” about the merits of the congressional district method.

    In Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, some Republican legislators recently strongly argued that they must change from the winner-take-all method to the congressional district method.

    Republican legislators who want to split state electoral votes in states that have recently voted Democratic in presidential elections, do not want to split electoral votes in states that recently voted Republican in presidential elections.

    These obvious unprincipled partisan attempts to make the current system even less fair, makes the case for the National Popular Vote plan all the stronger.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  6. ptfe says:

    “You can just say goodbye to your presidential visits,” Sen. Burke Harr said during debate yesterday.

    Er. Ann Romney went there once in 2012. And no candidate went in 2008. Is it possible to “say goodbye” to something that never existed? I can only hope he’s just trying to spark a philosophical debate.

    (Full disclosure: I once spent the night in Gothenburg, NE, after sliding off a frozen freeway. Let’s just say the Sod House Museum isn’t yet the Met of the Midwest.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  7. Tillman says:

    Honestly, I’d prefer if every state in the Union did things the way Nebraska does. One vote per congressional district, two votes for the statewide popular vote winner. It’d force the graphics guys on news shows to draw in the districts and simultaneously educate the whole country on what “gerrymander” means.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  8. ernieyball says:

    @grumpy realist: And miles and miles of nothing.

    Q: What’s the best thing to come out of Nebraska?

    A: An empty bus…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  9. @Tillman:

    One vote per congressional district

    I understand the appeal of this, but to go this route is called “welcome to gerrymandered presidential elections” as well as the same dynamics that allows the GOP to win substantially less votes than the Democrats nationally, but still win the House.

    I was going to blog on this separately, but note this.

    And in general remember: most of our House districts are not competitive.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  10. grumpy realist says:

    @ernieyball: Now, now, be nice. It’s just that Nebraska in the entire state has fewer people than pass through Shinjuku Station each day. It’s really hard for them to understand “crowds” or “traffic jams”* or “cosmopolitan.”

    My driving instructor in Lincoln told me he continually got students from the rural areas who felt they were “good drivers” and then absolutely freaked out at the multi-lane streets in downtown Lincoln. With little or no traffic.

    * except in Omaha

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. Tillman says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I see.

    What do you think about awarding a share of the state’s electoral vote based on the popular vote total? Instead of going by district, you award all non-senator electoral votes proportionately, saving the last two for the winner.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  12. ernieyball says:

    I thought I was going easy on the Cornhusker State. Somebody has to be driving that bus.
    I could have said the best thing to come out of Nebraska is Interstate 80!

    The longest straight stretch of interstate anywhere in the Interstate Highway System is the approximately 72 miles (116 km) of I-80 occurring between Exit 318 in the Grand Island area and mile marker 390 near Lincoln, Nebraska. Along this length, the road does not vary from an ideally straight line by more than a few yards.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  13. @Tillman: That would be better than what we have now and certainly better than the district method. Of course, I would abolish the EC altogether.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. RGardner says:

    “You can just say goodbye to your presidential visits,” Sen. Burke Harr said

    Same was true during the Clinton Administration. President Clinton had visited the other 49 states. It wasn’t until the last couple of months that he made it there, and then only because it was becoming a political issue that he hadn’t visited (mentioned during the 2000 Republican Nation Convention).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Brett says:

    If they want to divide up state-wide electoral votes, they should do it on a party break-down based off of the presidential vote in the states in question. So if a state goes 55% Republican and 45% Democrat, the electoral votes get divided that way, with rounding so that it comes out evenly.

    I’m heavily opposed to having votes divided on the lines of congressional districts, so I’m okay with this ending in Nebraska even if it means Democrats might occasionally lose a single electoral vote from the state.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @grumpy realist:

    And miles and miles of nothing.

    In all seriousness, that is the best part of Nebraska. I wish MO had more miles and miles of nothingness.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. ““You can just say goodbye to your presidential visits”

    Isn’t that just part of the charm of Nebraska?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. oldgulph says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Instead, by 2016, The National Popular Vote bill could guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps pre-determining the outcome. There would no longer be a handful of ‘battleground’ states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 80% of the states that now are just ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.

    When the bill is enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

    The presidential election system that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founders but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founders in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. States can, and frequently have, changed their method of awarding electoral votes over the years. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided).
    Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in recent or past closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: AZ – 67%, CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%.
    Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

    The bill has passed 32 state legislative chambers in 21 rural, small, medium, and large states with 243 electoral votes. The bill has been enacted by 10 jurisdictions with 136 electoral votes – 50.4% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

    NationalPopularVote
    Follow National Popular Vote on Facebook via NationalPopularVoteInc

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  19. oldgulph says:

    @Brett:
    Any state that enacts the proportional approach on its own would reduce its own influence. This was the most telling argument that caused Colorado voters to agree with Republican Governor Owens and to reject this proposal in November 2004 by a two-to-one margin.

    If the proportional approach were implemented by a state, on its own, it would have to allocate its electoral votes in whole numbers. If a current battleground state were to change its winner-take-all statute to a proportional method for awarding electoral votes, presidential candidates would pay less attention to that state because only one electoral vote would probably be at stake in the state.

    If states were to ever start adopting the whole-number proportional approach on a piecemeal basis, each additional state adopting the approach would increase the influence of the remaining states and thereby would decrease the incentive of the remaining states to adopt it. Thus, a state-by-state process of adopting the whole-number proportional approach would quickly bring itself to a halt, leaving the states that adopted it with only minimal influence in presidential elections.

    The proportional method also could result in third party candidates winning electoral votes that would deny either major party candidate the necessary majority vote of electors and throw the process into Congress to decide.

    If the whole-number proportional approach, the only proportional option available to an individual state on its own, had been in use throughout the country in the nation’s closest recent presidential election (2000), it would not have awarded the most electoral votes to the candidate receiving the most popular votes nationwide. Instead, the result would have been a tie of 269–269 in the electoral vote, even though Al Gore led by 537,179 popular votes across the nation. The presidential election would have been thrown into Congress to decide and resulted in the election of the second-place candidate in terms of the national popular vote.

    A system in which electoral votes are divided proportionally by state would not accurately reflect the nationwide popular vote and would not make every vote equal.

    It would penalize states, such as Montana, that have only one U.S. Representative even though it has almost three times more population than other small states with one congressman. It would penalize fast-growing states that do not receive any increase in their number of electoral votes until after the next federal census. It would penalize states with high voter turnout (e.g., Utah, Oregon).

    Moreover, the fractional proportional allocation approach, which would require a constitutional amendment, does not assure election of the winner of the nationwide popular vote. In 2000, for example, it would have resulted in the election of the second-place candidate.

    A national popular vote is the way to make every person’s vote equal and matter to their candidate because it guarantees that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states and DC becomes President.

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