Government Military and Veterans Affairs

Electoral College changes proposed

The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony Feb. 23 on two bills that would alter how Nebraska’s five Electoral College votes are awarded in presidential elections.

Currently, two votes are pledged to the statewide popular vote winner, with the remaining three pledged to the popular vote winner in each of the state’s congressional districts. All other states except Maine award electoral votes on a statewide, winner-take-all basis.

In 2008, Barack Obama won the electoral vote tied to Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District by winning the district’s popular vote. It was the first time that Nebraska split its electoral votes since adopting the district plan in 1991.

LB21, introduced by Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy, would return Nebraska to a winner-take-all system and LB583, introduced by Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar, would adopt the National Popular Vote interstate compact.

McCoy said Nebraska’s district system has not encouraged greater engagement by presidential candidates with rural areas of the state. Visits by presidential and vice-presidential candidates in 2008 were confined to the 2nd Congressional District, he said.

“I believe that presidential candidates should have to campaign for all of Nebraska,” McCoy said.

Mark Quandahl of Omaha testified in support of the measure, saying the potential to split Nebraska’s electoral votes weakens the state’s influence on presidential campaigns.

“This bill would strengthen Nebraska’s voice in national politics,” he said.

DiAnna Schimek of Lincoln testified against LB21, saying the current system encourages grassroots activity because citizens believe their vote counts. Under the previous system, she said, neither political party focused a great deal of energy on presidential electoral politics in Nebraska.

“The Democrats because they didn’t see any hope and the Republicans because they didn’t see any need,” she said.

Ben Gray of Omaha also testified against LB21, saying Nebraska’s district plan encourages voter participation. Returning to a winner-take-all system would discourage voter registration efforts among marginalized populations in Omaha, he said.

A second proposal for altering the electoral system was outlined in LB583.

Under Haar’s bill, Nebraska would adopt the National Popular Vote interstate compact. The compact would require the state’s presidential electors to pledge their Electoral College votes to the winner of the national presidential popular vote.

The compact would take effect once it is enacted by states possessing a majority of the nation’s electoral votes. States representing 28 percent of the necessary 270 electoral votes already have enacted the compact, Haar said.

He said the current system encourages presidential candidates to concentrate their efforts on battleground states – those with many electoral votes and a history of alternating between parties.
“That’s the way campaigns are run,” Haar said.

Laura Brod of National Popular Vote testified in support of the bill, saying 98 percent of all presidential campaign spending is concentrated on 15 battleground states. The result is public policy that is skewed toward those states, she said.

“[Candidates] ignore a majority of the people in this country,” Brod said.

Adam Morfeld of Nebraskans for Civic Reform also testified in support. Polls show overwhelming support for a national popular vote system, he said, and changing to such a system would increase voter engagement in the political process.

“The current system lowers citizens’ confidence and potentially suppresses voter turnout,” Morfeld said.

No opposition testimony was given on LB583 and the committee took no immediate action on either bill.

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