Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Nebraska Once Again Considers Returning to a Winner-Take-All Electoral Vote Allocation

A committee hearing scheduled for next week will once again have the Nebraska legislature considering a return to a winner-take-all allocation of electoral votes in future Electoral College meetings. 

LB 76 would revert Nebraska to the same winner-take-all system that it utilized in the Electoral College prior to the 1992 cycle and which all states other than Maine also use. 

But these attempts are nothing new in the Cornhusker state. Ever since that 1991 legislative session ushered in the era of electoral vote allocation by congressional district in Nebraska, some legislator or legislators have introduced legislation to rejoin the majority of states in how they handle the process. Each time, however, those efforts have failed. In 1993. In 1995. And in 1997. Chatter ramped up again in the aftermath of the state's first split of electoral votes in 2008, but nothing came of it. The same was true in 2015-16 before the 2016 presidential election and then again after it during the 2017 session. 

Now though, on the heels of yet another split of the five electoral votes at stake in Nebraska -- with John Biden replicating Barack Obama's 2008 win in the state's second congressional district on the way to the White House -- talk has again escalated around the idea of abandoning the more proportional system. And that talk with continue at the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs committee hearing next Wednesday. 

The allocation method Nebraska utilizes is unique compared to most other states, but given its partisan bent, any split that occurs breaks with the overwhelming partisan sentiment in the state. And those are the ends of the spectrum: maintaining a unique system or preserving electoral votes for the Republican nominee. The former has won out to this point since 1992.

Nebraska may have had difficulty in breaking with that tradition, but other states have had their own issues in trying to move to a more proportional, Nebraska-style allocation method. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin all considered that in the time after the 2012 election. All states were Republican-controlled, but all had gone for Obama in 2012. Efforts failed in all three and 2016 quickly proved the folly such a move would have presented. Trump narrowly won all three states and would have had to have split the electoral votes had those post-2012 plans been instituted. Unintended consequences are everywhere. 

As a footnote, in recent years (during the 2010s) there have been more, although not more successful, bids to transition Nebraska into the national popular vote pact. There have been at least five (unsuccessful) bills on that front in that time.

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