Winner-take-all election bill advances after cloture vote

Senators advanced a bill to final reading after four hours of debate April 4 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, sponsored 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.

The bill was introduced last session and stalled while on select file. After three days of debate, McCoy offered a motion to invoke cloture—or cease debate and force a vote on the bill. That motion failed on a 31-18 vote on March 17, 2015. Thirty-three votes were needed.

Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha—who said he believes the current congressional apportionment system to be unfair— prioritized the bill this session and select file debate resumed.

“I believe that when it comes to electing the president of the United States that the election process should be uniform in all 50 states,” Hilkemann said.

Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue spoke in opposition to LB10, saying the U.S. Constitution specifically allows each state to determine how to allocate Electoral College votes. She said it is “hard to imagine” why conservatives who support state’s rights would argue against allowing states that flexibility.

In addition, she said, in order to garner attention from presidential candidates, a state’s votes need to be contested.

“If Nebraska wants to be relevant, it needs to retain our current system,” Crawford said. “I cannot fathom why anyone of either party does not want presidential candidates to visit our state.”

McCoy said Nebraska should return to the winner-take-all system and have the state “speak with one voice” with its Electoral College votes.

“I think it makes sense for our state—border to border, rural and urban and everything in between,” he said.

He said the contention that Nebraska was on the leading edge of a trend when it adopted the proportional vote system in 1991 has not proven to be true.

“We just haven’t seen the evidence of that at all in the last 25 years,” McCoy said.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers—who led opposition to the proposal last year—offered an amendment that would urge other states to adopt Nebraska’s method for allocating presidential electors.

“It is often said that if you have something of value, flaunt it,” he said, adding that a winner-take-all system would stunt the political participation of voters who are not members of the majority party in Nebraska.

“That is not the way that participatory democracy should operate,” Chambers said.

Sen. Tanya Cook of Omaha supported the amendment. She said the proportional allocation of Electoral College votes is more likely to encourage participation among groups that are disproportionately impacted by public policy but who feel marginalized by the process and as if their votes do not count.

“It’s extremely important that these voters be heard,” Cook said.

Sen. John Murante of Gretna disagreed, saying every vote counts regardless of the probability that a preferred candidate or party will win. Voters should not be led to believe that their vote doesn’t count, he said.

“It is a sentiment that needs to be rejected by all 49 of us,” Murante said. “It has no basis in election law.”

The amendment failed on a vote of 8-31. Chambers brought several additional motions to delay the vote or bracket LB10 until the last day of the session. These attempts also failed.

McCoy offered a motion to bracket the bill until April 5, saying a few “recalcitrant” senators were not present to vote and that extended discussion would delay debate on other bills on the Legislature’s agenda for the day.

“Our hours are short,” he said. “If we have folks who would rather not be here for the discussion, that’s their choice.”

Speaker Galen Hadley of Kearney said the bill would not be placed on the agenda again if senators voted to bracket it.

“I have been absolutely consistent since I’ve been speaker that we do not hold-over the votes if you do not have people here,” he said.

McCoy withdrew his motion and debate resumed. Following four full hours of debate, he offered a motion to invoke cloture. It was adopted 34-15 and the bill advanced to final reading on a 32-15 vote.

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