Nebraska Considers Winner-Take-All Electoral Vote

Partisanship and representation in conflict.

POLITICO (“Biden camp reaches out to Nebraska Dems as state considers denying president crucial vote“):

President Joe Biden’s campaign officials have been in private talks with Nebraska Democrats after Republicans in the state began pushing for changes that could close off one of the president’s clearest paths to reelection.

The campaign has declined to comment on that push, which would turn Nebraska into a winner-take-all state in presidential elections, as opposed to one that allocates a portion of its Electoral College votes based on results in individual congressional districts.

But the private outreach, confirmed by two people familiar with it and granted anonymity to speak freely, suggests that the Democratic Party — from the president on down — has begun to take more seriously the possibility of the legislation, known as LB 764, passing.

Former President Donald Trump and the state’s Republican governor, Jim Pillen, are encouraging state lawmakers to move legislation that would repeal Nebraska’s 1991 law that divides electors based both on who wins the state and how each candidate performs in its three congressional districts. Republican activists have targeted the law precisely because in recent cycles, including 2020, the Democratic presidential candidate won the Omaha-based 2nd District, giving them an additional Electoral College vote.

Conservative talk show host Charlie Kirk — who sparked a viral online pressure campaign in favor of LB 764 — is expected to appear in Omaha on Tuesday to rally for the bill’s passage. Kirk has encouraged his supporters to contact legislators to move it through committee.

“There’s a decent amount of momentum behind it, but there are only a handful of legislative days left so it’d take a herculean effort to make it happen logistically,” said Barry Rubin, a Nebraska-based lobbyist. “Pressure from national groups, along with the governor and others, in addition to the enormous impact of removing the ‘blue dot’ from Nebraska’s 2nd could certainly move this along.”

So, obviously, this is purely a partisan gambit. Its intent is completely divorced from any notion of democracy or political theory.

From that standpoint, though, I could preach it either way. On the one hand, winner-take-all is clearly less representative than the current model, which is itself considerably less representative than a purely proportional model. In the last six elections, as few as 33% and as many as 42% of Nebraskans voted for the Democratic nominee yet almost all of its Electors go to the Republican. On the other hand, Nebraska is a majority Republican state and giving even a single Elector to the Democrat—when 48 of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia are winner-take-all—clearly disadvantages the chances of the majority preference of Nebraskans from winning the Presidency.

(I have more thoughts on the manner but need to get out of the door. I won’t be around today until this evening, if then.)

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, Democracy, Democratic Theory, Political Theory, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Today’s GOP: Can’t win a straight up election so they are trying to rig the vote anyway they can.

  2. Tony W says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Anything to avoid the strategy of adopting more popular policies.

  3. Scott says:

    This is a game that I have been expecting for a long time. The winner take all system is problematic. But the ability to manipulate the electoral system through legislation has been there all along. Because Nebraska and Maine are tiny and have had no impact on presidential elections, their unique systems have been ignored. With gerrymandering and legislator capture, the ability to capture power through other means is increasing. The real danger lies in the continual degradation of the general population to believe that elections are legitimate and fair.

  4. ptfe says:

    Wow, Republicans angling for less democracy? Haven’t heard a story like that since…uh…I dunno, it’s been a few days, but I haven’t been reading the papers this week.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tony W: Exactly.

  6. Kylopod says:

    @ptfe: While I don’t necessarily disagree, there isn’t any absolute answer to which of the two methods of allocating electors is more democratic. Indeed, over the years there have been attempts by Republicans to introduce the district method into other states like Pennsylvania so that they can potentially win a majority of the state’s EVs without winning the state’s popular vote.

    Gerrymandering is the main reason why I’m not crazy about the district method, even though in Nebraska it’s benefiting Dems currently. It’s just swapping one democracy-distorting feature of our system for another.

  7. Slugger says:

    Getting rid of the electoral college and going to direct elections is probably too crazy for the USA. It would solve this problem.

  8. MarkedMan says:

    I’m going to continue to beat my drum: Yes, the electoral college is unfair and gives excess power to small states. But there is no reason that unfairness has to benefit Republicans rather than Democrats. If Democrats can capture small states, the unfairness can work to their advantage. Given how hard it will be to change the system, wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on capturing more small states?

  9. Recognizing that the Electoral College, as a whole, is not an especially representative institution, I would say that in terms of making a general rule I prefer state-level allocation over districts because districts can be gerrymandered. I have written about this before–if we did the whole country this way then all of the representativeness and competition problems inherent in the House would affect the EC.

    But I object to election-year tinkering that is nothing more than a clear power grab. I especially object because this is clearly a brazen attempt to take away a more representative outcome.

    I suppose my ultimate position is that as a general rule, any electoral reform that decreases representativeness is almost certainly a bad move.

  10. Chip Daniels says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    This is my take as well.
    Whenever we hear some scheme by Republicans about voting rules or whatever, I see a lot of pundits immediately leap to wonkish analysis, but I reject the entire premise because exactly none of these are in good faith and they are all just naked power grabs.

  11. @MarkedMan:

    Given how hard it will be to change the system, wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on capturing more small states?

    Strategically the issue should always be to focus on the more competitive states regardless of size.

    And, I would note, that despite our collective American mythology, there really isn’t any inherent bond between small states (e.g, WY v. VT) or big states (e.g., TX v. CA). That is to say, there isn’t any “small state” strategy to be had, despite the whole reason we are taught about the Great Compromise (i.e., origins of the Senate) or the way we still talk about these places.

  12. Andy says:


    Given how hard it will be to change the system, wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on capturing more small states?

    Not for the Presidency, but definitely yes for getting a Senate majority.

  13. Scott F. says:

    @Chip Daniels:

    Conservative talk show host Charlie Kirk — who sparked a viral online pressure campaign in favor of LB 764 — is expected to appear in Omaha on Tuesday to rally for the bill’s passage.

    There’s your bad faith “tell” right there.

  14. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: If we can’t get rid of the EC, I would like some bold solon introduce a bill specifying that all states must allocate congressional-seat electoral votes by percentage of the popular vote in each state; the senatorial-seat votes would still go to the overall winner of the state. I don’t know whether or not this would require a constitutional amendment, but it would be fun to watch the Supremes contort themselves to find a rationale for overturning said law.

  15. Not the IT Dept. says:

    I’d rather dump the primary system – whatever good it ever did, it’s long since outlived that usefulness.

    For the EC, perhaps one thing we could do is to break up large states into smaller ones so that California and Texas don’t have the same Senate representation as Rhode Island and Vermont. We could put a population ceiling and floor into place for an area to be a state. Maybe it would require smaller states to merge together – Wyoming could merge with Montana or Idaho – if keeping the current number of senators is a priority.

    And then sit back and listen to the screaming!

  16. Kylopod says:


    Given how hard it will be to change the system, wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on capturing more small states?

    That’s far too broad to represent a strategy. Some of the bluest states in the country are small states–Vermont, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island. One major difference between those states and the small red states is that the red ones are giant-ass blocs of land with few people, whereas with the blue ones there tends to be more congruity between their size in area and size in population.

    The main disparity that leads to Republicans disproportionately controlling smaller states is their strength (and our weakness) among rural voters, or more specifically rural white voters. I think there’s potential in Alaska, especially after Mary Peltola’s win. But Alaska is a unique state in a lot of ways, in which there’s a reversal of the common pattern that the metro areas are bluer and the rural areas redder. And that has a lot to do with race.

    Other than that, what’s your proposal for what Dems ought to do to win “more small states”? Even if Jon Tester wins reelection this year, he’s living on borrowed time.

  17. Tony W says:

    Well, the good news is the bill failed. Only 8 of the necessary 23 representatives voted for it.

  18. wr says:

    @Kylopod: “Even if Jon Tester wins reelection this year, he’s living on borrowed time.”

    Six years of borrowed time sounds okay for now…