Electoral vote debate begins

Senators began two days of general file debate Jan. 28 on a bill that would change presidential election procedures.

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.

LB382, introduced by Fremont Sen. Charlie Janssen, would reinstate a winner-take-all system that would award all five electoral votes to the winner of the state’s popular vote in presidential elections. Janssen said supporters of the current plan claimed that Nebraska would see an influx of presidential candidates and an increase in voter turnout by adopting the state’s unique plan.

“Those claims have not been realized in any great measure,” he said, adding that district allocation of electoral votes diminishes Nebraska’s influence on the national stage.

“States have gone back and forth over time,” Janssen said, “and I think it’s telling that 48 states have now chosen the winner-take-all form.”

Papillion Sen. Bill Kintner supported the bill, saying he saw no purpose in Nebraska being an “outlier” in the electoral process.

“It seems pretty natural that if you win the popular vote in [a] state that you should win the votes in that state,” Kintner said. “If it’s good for 48 states, it’s probably good for 49 states.”

Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue opposed the bill, saying district allocation of electoral votes has increased citizen and media interest in Nebraska politics. Having a competitive race in the 2nd Congressional District in 2008 energized young voters, she said.

“LB382 is a loss for the state of Nebraska in terms of citizen engagement,” she said, adding that having a unique system also raises the state’s national profile.

“Every time the Electoral College is mentioned in the media, they mention Nebraska,” Crawford said.

Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery also opposed the bill, saying the competitive 2008 presidential race brought approximately $5.7 million in economic development to the 2nd District.

“I am searching for a public purpose in [this bill],” Avery said. “I can’t find a public purpose. I can find a political purpose, but I can’t find a public purpose.”

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers filed a series of amendments to LB382, calling the measure a partisan attempt to “run roughshod” over those in the political minority. He said a return to the winner-take-all system would harm the principle of representative democracy in Nebraska.

The first Chambers amendment, defeated Jan. 29 on an 8-22 vote, would have limited the bill’s provisions to the Republican Party. Chambers filed a motion to reconsider the vote taken on his amendment, which failed 7-26.

The Legislature adjourned for the day before taking additional action on the bill.

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