- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska Republicans cleared a major hurdle Monday in their efforts to reinstate a winner-take-all system in presidential elections, a move that would wipe out any chance of the state splitting its electoral votes as it did for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008.

Lawmakers voted 32-15 to advance a bill that would end Nebraska’s practice of awarding its votes by congressional district.

Nebraska and Maine are the only states where it’s possible to split electoral votes between opposing presidential candidates. Two of Nebraska’s electoral votes are awarded to the statewide winner, while the remaining three are distributed by congressional district.

The proposal now headed to a final vote in the Legislature would require Nebraska to award all of its electoral votes in presidential elections to the winner of the state’s popular vote. Last year, supporters fell two votes short of the 33 needed to force an end to legislative debate on the measure.

The state 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.

Sen. Beau McCoy, an Omaha Republican who introduced the measure, said Nebraska’s process has fallen short of its original goal of boosting voter turnout by creating districts that are competitive enough to attract presidential hopefuls. Obama and Republican vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin made brief appearances in Omaha in 2008, but rural Nebraska hasn’t seen a candidate in decades.

McCoy said Nebraska’s process was passed with the belief that other states would follow, but none ever did.

“We’re deluding ourselves if we think any other state is going to go in this direction,” McCoy said. “They’re not. And if they aren’t, why should we?”

Supporters also argued that the process for electing a president should be consistent in all 50 states.

“It’s important that we join the rest of the union and at least make it uniform for the people of the state of Nebraska,” said Sen. Robert Hilkemann, an Omaha Republican.

Opponents have said the bill would increase Republican dominance by eliminating any chance that Democrats have to win the 2nd congressional district in Omaha, one of the few places where they can compete. Even some Republicans have questioned the need for change.

“I would challenge anybody to say this isn’t exactly what the Republican Party wants,” said Sen. Ernie Chambers, a left-leaning independent from Omaha.

Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln said Nebraska has always shown an independent streak, and splitting its electoral votes by congressional district is no different.

“States can be laboratories for democracy, and if this is our unique quirk that we share with Maine, so be it. Let’s be proud of it,” said Hansen, a Democrat.

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.

Senators have introduced similar measures a dozen times since 1991, when former Democratic Gov. Ben Nelson signed the current system into law. All but three of those bills were introduced before the 2008 election.

Secretary of State John Gale, a Republican, has said Nebraska was at the leading edge of an experiment that never gained traction in other states.


The bill is LB10

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