Electoral winner-take-all debate begins

Lawmakers began debate Feb. 23 on a bill that would reinstate a winner-take-all system for allocating Nebraska’s presidential electoral votes.

Currently, the winner of Nebraska’s statewide popular vote receives two Electoral College votes. The state’s three congressional districts also award one electoral vote each based on the popular vote winner in each district. Maine is the only other state to use this system.

LB10, introduced by Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy, would reinstate a winner-take-all system and award all five electoral votes to the winner of the state’s popular vote.

McCoy said the district plan has led presidential campaigns—when they focus attention on Nebraska at all—to limit their focus to the 2nd Congressional District, which was won by President Barack Obama in 2008.

“I think that a presidential candidate who wants to get one electoral vote in Nebraska ought to have to work for all five,” McCoy said.

O’Neill Sen. Tyson Larson supported the bill, saying that if other states adopted the district system it would result in a handful of powerful “swing districts,” rather than the current powerful “swing states.”

“Do we want to be that example for the rest of the country?” Larson said.

Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue spoke in opposition to the bill, noting that the U.S. Constitution leaves the method of distributing electoral votes to each state to decide.

“So our question is what is best for the state of Nebraska?” she said. “I do not feel that LB10 is what is best for the state of Nebraska.”

Crawford said a return to the winner-take-all system would result in the state being taken for granted by one party and ignored by the other. Having a competitive congressional district makes it more likely that presidential campaigns will pay attention to Nebraska, she said.

“I don’t see any possible state interest in giving that advantage away,” Crawford said.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers offered a motion to bracket LB10 until June 5, calling the bill an attempt to disenfranchise voters in the 2nd Congressional District.

“This has to do with silencing the Democrats,” he said.

The Legislature adjourned for the day before taking any action on the bill. Two amendments are pending.

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