Opinion: As Nebraska goes, so could Maine

Every state is different. Nebraska is quite different. It is one of only two states that doesn’t use the winner-take-all system in presidential elections. Along with Maine, it allocates its Electoral College votes to reflect the results in each of its congressional districts.

In 2020, Donald Trump lost the Omaha-based congressional district while winning Nebraska’s other two. That cost him one electoral vote. In a very close election, that one vote could matter. Hence, Trump and his people have been pressuring Nebraska to adopt “winner-take-all,” whereby whatever candidate received the most votes statewide would get all five of Nebraska’s electoral votes.

This move is especially bold because in 2016, Trump did win Omaha’s district. One supposes he could win it again the old-fashioned way, by getting more people to vote for him than for Joe Biden. As he’s proved in terrifying ways, Trump is not a stickler for honoring the will of the people.

Don Bacon, the Republican representing the Omaha district, supports the Trump camp’s efforts to change the state’s method for assigning electoral votes. “I think it undermines the influence of Nebraska,” he told CNN.

The opposite is more likely. Were Nebraska to embrace “winner-take-all,” neither candidate would have great incentive to campaign there at all. As for the politics of it, one strains to understand how pushing to deprive his constituents of the right to allocate their electoral vote is going to win Bacon love in his purple district.

So far these efforts have failed, even in the GOP-dominated state legislature. Good for them.

But pressure remains. Nebraska’s current Republican governor, Jim Pillen, has offered to support a special legislative session to move the state to winner-take-all. “I will sign (winner-take-all) into law the moment the legislature gets it to my desk,” he vowed.

However, Nebraska’s unique political culture is deservedly a point of pride. There could be blowback on those who help outsiders try to change it.

For example, Nebraska is the only state with a one-chamber legislature. This dates back to 1934, when Nebraskans voted to replace a governing body with both a House and a Senate with a unicameral one. Party affiliations are not listed on the ballot.

This reform was pushed through by George W. Norris, a devout Republican. Norris argued that there was no logic in having a two-house legislature. On the contrary, it cost the taxpayers more money and made politicians less accountable to the people.

“The greatest evil of a two-house legislature is its institution of the conference committee,” Norris wrote in his autobiography. That’s where power brokers could fiddle with passed bills.

“There the ‘bosses’ and the special interests and the monopolies get in their secret work behind the scenes,” Norris wrote. “There the elimination of a sentence or paragraph, or even a word, may change the meaning of the entire law.”

Meanwhile, were “reliably Democratic” Maine to adopt a winner-take-all system, that would cancel any Republican advantage in a Nebraska that did likewise. Maine’s rural 2nd congressional district favored Trump both in 2016 and 2020.

Adding intrigue, Maine’s House recently narrowly voted to have the state join an interstate compact that would assign its Electoral College votes to whatever presidential candidate won the national popular vote. So far 16 states have joined the compact, which would go into effect only if the members have enough electoral votes to determine the outcome.

In 2020, Biden won over 7 million more popular votes than Trump did. And in 2016, Hillary Clinton comfortably beat Trump in the popular vote by 3 million.

It would not seem in Republicans’ interests to encourage states to change how they count electoral votes. After all, as Nebraska goes, so could Maine.

— Froma Harrop is a syndicated columnist with Creators.


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