Nebraska GOP tinkering with electoral votes to hurt Dem prez candidates

Nebraska Republicans are advancing a bill that would change the state’s electoral vote allocation to become winner-take-all. If passed, the bill would leave Maine as the only state that does not award all of its electoral votes to the candidate who wins the statewide popular vote.

On the one hand, this move would bring Nebraska in line with 48 other states, plus DC. On the other hand, let’s not pretend that the move has anything to do with democratic norms. We’ve known for a long time that this is about partisan advantage. Though winner-take-all bills have been bandied about ever since the state adopted proportional allocation in 1991, the effort picked up steam after 2008, when President Obama won Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District and became the first Democrat to win an electoral vote from the state since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

I’ll give you zero guesses as to why. As Nebraska Republican Party chairman J.L. Spray explained last year, “It’s obvious that the majority of citizens of the state of Nebraska are Republicans…They want to have the maximum voice in the Electoral College.”

Nebraska 2008 Presidential election results by county, via Wikimedia Commons

Nebraska 2008 Presidential election results by county, via Wikimedia Commons

This is the flip side of the argument that Republicans are making in relatively blue states where have recently held control the governorship and legislature, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia. In those states, we were told that it would actually be more representative for the electoral votes to be apportioned the way Nebraska currently does, by congressional district, since using statewide popular vote allowed urban (read: non-white) voters to outvote rural (read: white) voters, leaving Republicans with fewer electoral votes than they felt they deserved.

To the extent that Nebraska Republicans have tried out novel arguments in defense of tinkering with the rules of the game to their advantage, they have their logic backwards. The bill’s sponsor, Beau McCoy, told the Associated Press that the goal of his legislation is to make the state “count as much as possible” in presidential elections. But as the proportional allocation bill’s original sponsor, former Sen. DiAnna Schimek, told TalkingPointsMemo, that’s one of the main benefits of proportional allocation. As she explained, with at least one electoral vote that was occasionally up for grabs, presidential candidates actually bothered to invest time and resources in the state (as Obama’s large-scale field operation in the 2nd District in 2008 showed). If the Republican candidate can take all five of the state’s electoral votes for granted every cycle, no one will ever have a reason to go there.

The only argument Republicans have put forward that makes any sense is one based in uniformity. From TPM:

Its supporters deny that the change is about preventing another 2008 scenario where Democrats peel off one of the state’s electoral votes.

“When it comes to electing the President of the United States, the process should be consistent,” Sen. Robert Hilkemann (R), who filed a motion to prioritize the bill, told TPM via email Thursday. “If consistency across the U.S. called for proportional allocation of electoral votes, I would support that.”

Still, though, what we’re left with is Republicans in a diverse set of states making claims as to the correct allocation of electoral votes that just so happen to correspond with their state-specific electoral advantage. In Nebraska, that argument just so happens to jive with a reasonable claim to uniformity, but one can’t help but be skeptical as to their motives.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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