GOP attempt to change Nebraska's electoral vote system fails

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Republican attempt to reinstate the winner-take-all system for Nebraska's presidential electors was thwarted Tuesday by a legislative filibuster, derailing a GOP effort to increase the chances of their 2016 presidential nominee winning all five of the state's votes.

The measure was effectively killed after supporters failed to overcome a legislative filibuster. Had it passed, the bill would have ended the state's practice of allocating its electoral votes by congressional district.

Nebraska and Maine are the only states where it's possible to divide electoral votes between opposing presidential candidates in a general election. The states award one electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district, and the other two to the statewide winner. California allocates its electoral votes by district in Republican primaries.

Nebraska split its electoral votes for the first time in 2008, when Obama captured one from the 2nd congressional district in Omaha on his way to the presidency.

Adopting a similar model on a national scale would dramatically change the way Americans elect their president. In the current political climate, it could put Democrats at a disadvantage in states where Republican legislatures drew congressional district lines to give their party an edge.

Republicans argued that no state has followed Nebraska since it adopted the system in 1991, largely on the belief that it was leading a movement.

"It's been 25 years, and there's no state that even come close to passing this," said Sen. Robert Hilkemann, an Omaha Republican. "I think it's one of those experiments that it's not working."

Sen. Tanya Cook, a Democrat from Omaha, said the winner-take-all system "will result in no-choice elections where one party has a permanent monopoly on power."

In Pennsylvania, a bill floated by a leading state Senate Republican won support from then-Gov. Tom Corbett in 2011. Senate Republican leader Dominic Pileggi pursued the idea for several years, while Democrats cast it as a partisan scheme. Critics argued that awarding votes from the state's gerrymandered congressional districts would reduce voter turnout and destroy Pennsylvania's status as a battleground in presidential races.

Virginia lawmakers introduced a GOP-backed proposal shortly after Obama won the state in 2012, but Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell voiced opposition to it and the measure died in committee. Similar legislation in Wisconsin and Michigan never gained traction.

"Anytime it gets debated, it gets put into a partisan context," said Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, an advocacy group critical of the winner-take-all system. "Usually it's the minority party saying it's a fair way to do it."

Richie said Nebraska's move to a winner-take-all model would ensure that it joins other solidly Republican and Democratic states that never get attention. Nebraska rarely sees presidential hopefuls, but in 2008 Omaha was visited by Obama, Republican John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin.

Nebraska is one of the safest locks for Republican presidential nominees, who haven't lost the statewide popular vote since Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson carried it in 1964. The 2nd congressional district, encompassing Omaha, is the only place where Democratic contenders stand a realistic chance of winning.

Nebraska adopted its current system in 1991 despite a Republican majority in the officially nonpartisan, one-house Legislature Republican lawmakers have since tried a dozen times to repeal it, but the efforts stalled in the Legislature or were vetoed.

Supporters in 1991 argued that allocating the votes by district was fairer and more proportional to urban voters in the overwhelmingly rural, conservative state, said former state Sen. DiAnna Schimek, who sponsored the bill to create the current system.

"My argument was that people would feel their vote was represented," said Schimek, a Democrat. "I thought it would inspire more people to get involved."


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