A bill to change Nebraska’s electoral vote allocation in presidential elections has been introduced and in the Nebraska Legislature 16 times since the method’s adoption in 1991, but none have been successful in changing Nebraska’s unique system.
State Sen. Julie Slama hopes to end that streak with LB76, the 17th attempt to return Nebraska’s electoral system to a winner-take-all approach. If she is successful, Nebraska will lose national political relevance and voters’ voices will be less accurately reflected in electoral results.
Instead, Nebraska should keep its current electoral system and encourage other states to adopt the congressional district method as well.
Compared to the rest of the nation, Nebraska’s state politics are the quirky “I’m not like other girls” system of the bunch. If you’ve spent any time in a Nebraska public school, you are likely aware that Nebraska has the nation’s only unicameral state legislature and the nation’s only nonpartisan state legislature.
Nebraska is also one of two states – Maine being the other – that allocates one electoral vote for the winner of each congressional district, and two for the statewide winner.
However, also like the “I’m not like other girls” girls, Nebraska is not free from societal trends. The pressure of partisan politics still plays a role in the state, and to say otherwise is naive at best and deceitful at worst.
While Nebraska’s state senators are not elected on a partisan basis, party lines are evident in the body. The debate over LB76 is no different, as support for the bill in the state has come solely from Republicans including Ryan Hamilton, executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party.
While some moderate Nebraska Republicans such as Al Davis oppose the bill, the majority of opposition comes from Democrats.
Joe Biden won a single electoral vote in the state in the 2020 election, but with a winner-take-all approach, Donald Trump would have carried all five of the state’s electoral votes. Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses all of Douglas County and most of Sarpy County in the Omaha metropolitan area, flipped blue for the second time since Nebraska began the congressional district method in 1991.
It’s clear that some politicians support LB76 because it nearly guarantees Nebraska will provide a Republican presidential candidate with Nebraska’s five electoral votes. The GOP would no longer have to spend any money in the pesky Omaha battleground to keep their vote in this scenario.
At the same time, Democrats are likely to support the bill as it would give a Democrat an opportunity to pick up an electoral vote in a competitive district, even as a Democrat’s statewide win would be nearly impossible.
In other words, most of the debate about fairness and founding fathers is just beating around the bush of the political motivations behind the proposal.
In 2017, Republicans introduced a bill in the Minnesota House of Representatives that would change Minnesota’s method to Nebraska’s current congressional district allocation system. In 2016, Clinton won the state’s 10 electoral votes, but with Nebraska’s method, the state would have split with five votes for Clinton and five for Trump. Unsurprisingly, Democrats opposed the change in Minnesota while Republicans championed it.
Most arguments surrounding the electoral process in each state are simply verbal gymnastics to hide partisan motivations, but I want to take a closer look at Sen. Slama’s arguments in favor of a winner-take-all system in good faith.
Slama said she is especially concerned that in a redistricting year, the congressional districts drawn by the legislature could have electoral college implications. She is right that the congressional districts drawn by the legislature have the potential to be partisan and that their impact would be slightly lessened by a return to a winner-take-all system.
However, aside from the fact that LB76 is already hyper-partisan, if Slama truly cared about fairness, she could introduce a bill that would call for an independent commission to draw the legislative maps instead of the legislature. Also, states with winner-take-all systems still have partisan gerrymandering. The issue got so bad in North Carolina that a state court barred the map’s use in 2020 elections.
Slama also said she doesn’t think lines drawn by policymakers should impact the electoral college, but how does she think Nebraska got its shape?
She argues that the Founding Fathers intended to give authority to the states and not segments of the states, but Nebraska’s system is completely constitutional.
Finally, Slama said that no other states have adopted the congressional district since 1991 and that puts Nebraska at a disadvantage when it comes to relevance in presidential elections.
The congressional district method may not have been as popular across the country as Nebraskans had hoped in 1991, but if anything, that makes Nebraska more relevant. If Nebraska were a winner-take-all state, there would be no incentive for presidential candidates to pay attention to Nebraska. Like its neighbors on the Great Plains, the electoral votes of the Cornhusker State would all be assumed Republican votes and no further effort would be needed.
However, with one electoral vote on the line, Donald Trump made an appearance in front of 25,000 people in Omaha in the waning days of the campaign trail. Sure, some were stranded in freezing temperatures and Trump ultimately could not hold on to Nebraska’s 2nd District electoral vote, but the event surely energized Nebraska Republicans.
The congressional district method may not have been the method of the immediate future for most states after its 1991 Nebraska introduction, but that does not mean more states could not adopt the system in the 2020s.
A 2020 poll found that 61% of Americans support abolishing the Electoral College, including 23% of Republicans – not an insignificant amount, given that a popular vote system would have resulted in two fewer Republican presidents in the last 20 years.
Despite the Electoral College’s unpopularity, it is enshrined in the Constitution, and the pre and post-election fervor against the method usually dies down before anything changes.
With the congressional district method, however, a nationwide campaign to amend the Constitution is not necessary, but voters have a greater chance of having their voice accurately reflected in election results.
Since each candidate still receives two electoral votes for a statewide win, people living in solid red or blue congressional districts in battleground states still have a chance to influence the election. And in states like Nebraska, where some people live in battleground congressional districts but in a deep red or blue state, voters will also have a chance of swaying results.
The system is not perfect, as voters in Nebraska’s 3rd Congressional District, for example, still have little chance of impacting the presidential election, but the method is a substantial improvement over a winner-take-all system.
I hope that Nebraska senators retain Nebraska’s unique election methods and don’t return to their old-ways because of a hyper-partisan bill.
Brian Beach is a sophomore journalism major. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.