Months ahead of the presidential election, Nebraska’s GOP governor wants a winner-take-all system

Months ahead of the presidential election, Nebraska's GOP governor wants a winner-take-all system © Provided by The Canadian Press

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — With only months to go before what is shaping up to be a hotly contested presidential election, Nebraska’s Republican governor is calling on state lawmakers to move forward with a “winner-take-all” system of awarding Electoral College votes.

“It would bring Nebraska into line with 48 of our fellow states, better reflect the founders’ intent, and ensure our state speaks with one unified voice in presidential elections,” Gov. Jim Pillen said in a written statement Tuesday. “I call upon fellow Republicans in the Legislature to pass this bill to my desk so I can sign it into law.”

Nebraska and Maine are the only states that split their electoral votes by congressional district, and both have done so in recent presidential elections. Both states’ lawmakers have also made moves to switch to a winner-take-all system and have found themselves frustrated in that effort.

In Nebraska, the system has confounded Republicans, who have been unable to force the state into a winner-take-all system since Barack Obama became the first presidential contender to shave off one of the state’s five electoral votes in 2008. It happened again in 2020, when President Joe Biden captured Nebraska’s 2nd District electoral vote.

In the 2016 presidential election, one of Maine’s four electoral votes went to former President Donald Trump. Now, Maine Republicans stand opposed to an effort that would ditch its split system and instead join a multistate compact that would allocate all its electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote for president — even if that conflicts with Maine’s popular vote for president.

A spokesperson for Democratic Maine Gov. Janet Mills said the governor has not said whether she’ll sign the bill, which received final approval Wednesday in the Maine Senate. But even if it’s signed, it would be on hold until the other states approve the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

Nebraska Republicans, too, have continuously faced hurdles in changing the current system, largely because the state’s unique one-chamber Legislature requires 33 votes to get any contested bill to passage. Republicans in the officially nonpartisan Legislature currently hold 32 seats, but one Democrat — Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell — announced Wednesday that he is switching his party affiliation to Republican. McDonnell cited his censure by the Nebraska Democratic Party for supporting abortion restrictions last year.

The party blasted Pillen’s attempt to tank the split electoral vote system and urged residents to sign a petition supporting it.

“Nebraskans want to keep our fair electoral system in place which is why previous attempts by some Republicans over the last thirty years have failed to undo our split electoral votes,” party chair Jane Kleeb said in a written statement. “We are proud of our unique electoral vote system and know all too well the economic benefits it generates with a national focus on our state.”

Despite Pillen’s call to pass a winner-take-all change, it seems unlikely that Nebraska lawmakers would have time to get the bill out of committee, much less advance it through three rounds of debate, with only six days left in the current session. Some Nebraska lawmakers acknowledged as much.

“Reporting live from the trenches — don’t worry, we aren’t getting rid of our unique electoral system in Nebraska,” Sen. Megan Hunt posted on X late Tuesday. “Legislatively there’s just no time. Nothing to worry about this year.”

Speaker of the Legislature Sen. John Arch confirmed as much Wednesday afternoon, noting that under Nebraska’s legislative process, “I’m not able to schedule a bill that is still in committee.”

Associated Press writer David Sharp in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.

Source: Margery A. Beck, The Associated Press